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Test of Fidelity
A New Catholicism, Part II
Recall that commemorative coin. Here’s what two women and a boy used to look like in Catholic art when it was not theologically sterile. Would Mary have approved genetic therapy for Jesus? Would Ste Anne have felt threatened if she didn’t? How would either respond to the vacina salva doctrine? Or to the larger project, still unfolding, to which the doctrine is a tributary? See, e.g., Robert Malone’s Human Cyborgs are Just the Beginning (14 Sept. 2022).
Note to the reader: We pick up here precisely where we left off in Part I; that is, with a promise to unpack the sixth reason for ecclesial failure during the covid crisis and to address the final five points of our outline:
that there is an emergent eugenic health tyranny
that this tyranny has been cross bred with its Chinese counterpart
that it is replete with negligent and deliberate homicide
that classical liberalism has reached a dead end
that fear was the symptom proper to the pandemic
that churches failed to respond appropriately
that there are a number of reasons for their failure
that they are being led where they do not wish to go
that those leading them are secretly in despair
that robust eschatology is essential for effective resistance
that recovery of a proper hierarchy of law is likewise necessary
that a contest of catholicisms is underway, between which we must choose.
8. That churches are being led where they do not wish to go
Let's think first about the claim that humanity will flourish only by way of successful integration into a world reshaped by powerful algorithms. The creed to which that claim belongs goes something like this:
Man emerged from evolutionary processes as the one animal able to take charge of its own further development; the invention of AI is key to that development.
Progress will lead, through biodigital fusions and a many-mansioned metaverse, to a more advanced order, one less dependent on the messy carbon-and-water-based platform of organic life and more dependent on silicon-based computational platforms.
AI will prove superior to human intelligence in ways that promise to enhance or, alternatively, to diminish and destroy human life.
To resist the new AI era is futile and short-sighted, much as resisting heliocentrism was, but AI can and should be trained to appreciate, defend, and enhance human interests.
Religion can help establish the goals of this training, but will need to be theologically creative in a way that renders it compatible with AI advances.
This creed presents a puzzle to be solved. If intelligence is what is most divine about life, and if Evolution produced two forms of intelligence, the first natural and the second artificial, is the one merely transitional to the other or are both to coexist indefinitely? Or might the emergence of the divine itself be found in a higher synthesis of the two, along a path the Romantics (who tended to confuse between the wholeness of the world and our performative perception of its wholeness) and the German idealists have already marked out? What these attempted poetically and philosophically remained merely impressionistic and rather religious, to be sure. The true unity of things will be found through science and technology, not through intuition or inspiration. Only artificial intelligence can introduce a wholeness that approximates divinity. What that means for the survival of natural intelligence is difficult to say, but whatever emerges from Evolution is natural, even if it is artificial.
As Lewis reminds us in The Funeral of a Great Myth, the doctrine of emergence grew out of Romanticism, not out of a biological theory about the adaptation of organisms by natural selection. Evolution in that sense is a philosophical not a scientific construct. We are not dealing, then, with a contest between a soft-headed religious and a hard-nosed scientific mindset or methodology. We are dealing rather with a contest of worldviews, and with a contest about the future of man that Christian leaders can ill afford to sit out. That they are trying to sit it out is evident from their refusal to see the global pandaemonium for what it is or to admit the two-pronged attack that is being conducted under cover of induced chaos; that is, an attack on biblical religion and an attack on nature itself. Even the fact that whole scenario was gamed ahead of time, with a dress rehearsal on the very eve of its unfolding, they have not allowed to disturb them. The gaming was necessary, of course, for that is how devotees of Evolution lay hold of nature in order to steer it in the desired direction. If man once did his best to adapt to nature, he now adapts nature to himself in order to produce a kind of supernature. He makes models, and requires nature to conform to his models. And the nature he is adapting is especially his own nature.
One step in this process, regularly repeated, is to break the link between language and reality. That is most easily achieved by redefinition. So, for example, we make "pandemic" refer to something we can produce almost at will. That supplies welcome opportunities to practice problem-solving in multiple spheres. The immediate goal in the sphere of medicine is AI-enhanced tinkering with the human immune system, which takes place by "vaccination" (also redefined). Yes, this yields some collateral damage. Evolutionary processes are like that; lots of wastage for a useful sliver of progress. The debut of mRNA therapy for humans may have failed to stop covid and even made it more difficult to stop. But it's not really about stopping covid. If it were, covid would not have been created in the first place. It's about harnessing the immune system for higher ends, and about accustoming people to the whole process. We mustn't get too fussed, then, about collateral damage or even about the dark side of the business, where fraud is perpetrated for private profit and certain less presentable agendas remained cloaked in shadows. Evil, remember, can be recycled as good, and on the altar of universal progress many individual goods will have to be sacrificed.
We must not be surprised, then, when propagandists speak counterfactually of a “stunningly successful debut,” touting the failed technology as likely to produce some great boon to mankind; perhaps the magic bullet we are looking for "in the battle against cancer, HIV and other deadly diseases," or something of that sort. (Since, as anticipated, it seems to trigger cancers, there should be ample opportunity to find out; apparently the first step in harnessing the immune system is disabling it.) Or when AI imaginaries promise us virtual babies with little or no carbon footprint and other convenient features. (For those who prefer the man-God to the God-man, celebration of a virtual baby seems entirely fitting; think of it as a new Advent ritual and a new virgin birth.) Or when we encounter men and women so besotted with their own divinity as to lack all compunction about the sacrificing in question, even dressing it up as an ethical advance, if not what “the Science” demands.
In the company of the modelers, many such groupies are to be found. The modelers themselves are the new Wise Men. They follow the Star and discern the path to the greater good. Lewis called them the Controllers. He also warned that their search for power over nature, exercised without reference to the moral economy that governs nature, can only mean the attempt of some men to exercise power over other men, using nature as their instrument. Are the churches ready for that? Do they know where things are headed or realize that their priesthood has passed from them? They dutifully produced their vaccine champions. Will they also bless virtual babies, or whatever else they are asked to do, in a vain attempt to regain it?
9. That those leading them are secretly in despair
I do not wish to be mistaken for an opponent of technological advance. Neither the digital realm nor mastery over it is evil. Medicine and much else can benefit from it. Humanity can benefit from it. But humanity cannot digitalize itself without abandoning its birthright. A man cannot submit to the attempt, though he gain the whole world by his submission, without forfeiting his soul. He will certainly lose his freedom. Are we not being told today, as the new technologies are rolled out, that in matters of personal health autonomous decisions are to have far less purchase than once they did? That many decisions will be taken for us, including decisions about vaccines—dangerous and very fallible decisions we may not even know have been taken? And are we not learning that rights of speech, association, mobility, work, financial transactions, national sovereignty, and even religion, are all now suspendable for almost any reason that occurs to officialdom?
Does anyone still suppose it an accident that liberties in all these spheres have suffered repeated blows during the pandemic? That work-from-home, cashless, UBI-based economies are mooted? And it gets worse. Taking charge of nature means rationalizing population levels; that is, reduction to an optimum determined by SDGs, reinforced by ESGs, enforced by PPPs. It means monitoring both production and reproduction, in other words, which makes a master digitalization program not merely desirable but necessary. Human life must be digitalized if optimum numbers, and optimum organization, are to be achieved and maintained. The tools of choice are biometrics, nanotechnology, assigned identities, and a singularity called the Internet of Bodies or Things, through which risk-management algorithms can operate effectively, producing the perfectly numbered, perfectly ordered, perfectly cooperative city of the man-God.
Plagues are useful to this end, even plagues that achieve only a very modest cull. Plagues call for vaccines; that is, for delivery systems. Vaccines call for passports; that is, for control systems. Control systems require the Controllers. Plague thus becomes putsch, and a global plague opens the door to a global putsch. Only a global putsch can achieve the eugenic goals the Controllers have in view. It's all made to sound like progress, grand progress. As occasion demands, it's marketed with glossy optimism or grave realism. It can be religious or irreligious in tone. At its ideological core, however, hidden beneath all that, lies the old Gnostic pessimism about the world—despair about life as we know it, a despair that borders on hatred of embodied existence.
We return then to that other feature, the one I referred to as hygienic gnosticism. Its pessimism can be illustrated quite nicely in Teilhard. Here was a man of science and theology, a Jesuit praised both for his passionate belief in progress and his determination to make the cult of progress properly Christian—to baptize it, sanctify it, popularize it inside the church and out. Here was a Gaudium et spes man, joyfully optimistic and soberly realistic, a beacon of hope in whose light the secular appeared as the religious and the religious as the secular. Behind his much-lauded hope for the world, however, as I pointed out in Ascension and Ecclesia, lay an anxiety fed by the vastness of the expanding universe and a sense of futility before the law of entropy. The "malady of space-time," manifesting itself as a "fundamental anguish of being" and a "sickness of the dead end," produced a disconcerting feeling of confinement. So too did the press of modern civilization, which threatens to crush the individual under the steadily increasing weight of man's world-building project.
As the years go by, Lord, I come to see more and more clearly, in myself and in those around me, that the great secret preoccupation of modern man is much less to battle for possession of the world than to find a means of escaping from it. The anguish of feeling that one is not merely spatially but ontologically imprisoned in the cosmic bubble; the anxious search for an issue to, or more exactly a focal point for, the evolutionary process; these are the price we must pay for the growth of planetary consciousness; these are the dimly-recognized burdens which weigh down the souls of christian and gentile alike in the world of today.
Is it really so difficult, muses Teilhard, to think "that Mankind, at the end of its totalization, its folding-in upon itself, may reach a critical level of maturity where, leaving Earth and stars to lapse slowly back into the dwindling mass of primordial energy, it will detach itself from this planet and join the one true, irreversible essence of things, the Omega Point?" This, he says, may be "a phenomenon perhaps outwardly akin to death," yet "a simple metamorphosis and arrival at the supreme synthesis." It would be "an escape from the planet, not in space or outwardly, but spiritually and inwardly, such as the hyper-concentration of matter upon itself allows.”
I revisited this in The Problem with Teilhard when the cry went up to lift the monitum against him. I mention it again here, not because the monitum has been lifted—it hasn't—but because the Vatican is nonetheless partnering quite openly with those inside the church who think like Teilhard and with those outside who are delighted about that, since it tends (wittingly or no) to reduce "religious hesitancy" about their purposes, products, and plans. One such partnership has even taken the name Humanity 2.0, describing itself as a "Human Flourishing Accelerator" and "a vehicle for facilitating collaborative ventures between the traditionally siloed public, private and faith-based sectors." It was developed "in collaboration with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development at the Holy See and a consortium of leaders and luminaries," with a view to uniting "humanity in the common cause of realizing a better world for our children." (I can't help but think back here to that Times article.) Its mission "is to identify impediments to human flourishing and then work collaboratively across sectors to remove them by sourcing and scaling bold and innovative solutions. Philip Larrey, Dean of Philosophy at the Lateran and author of Artificial Humanity, a man fully conversant with AI ambitions, is project chairman.
Fr. Larrey's project is just one of several sponsored by World Economic Forum partners now operative in Rome, including the Council for Inclusive Capitalism with the Vatican and the Global Solidarity Fund. Rome indeed seems rife with such players and (one suspects) flush with their money. They advance anything and everything, including contraception and abortion, that might accelerate Agenda 2030. They're also big on the GAVI agenda and the Great Reset, in a philanthropic fashion, of course. I see no evidence that they know or care much about Catholic doctrine and morals, except it where it might be useful to attenuate or disable them. What Fr. Larrey himself has to say about such things, I will not speculate. I do find it curious, however, that, in the book just mentioned, his questioning of AI teleology and eschatology, even his gentle urging of an alternative—of a higher and more stable form of transcendence than they are able to conceive—leaves out of account, perhaps for some tactical reason unclear to me, the true source of Christian hope and the fundamentum of all Christian eschatology: the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Basilica St Denis (personal photo, as you can probably tell, contextualized for you in Ascension Theology at p. 170)
10. That a robust eschatology is required in resistance
Teilhard also leaves it out, but not tactically. His entire corpus is directed to identifying the cosmos as the "body" of the Lord to whom he prays, who is not the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus of Nazareth but a christic force of his own religious fancy. Thankfully, Humanity 2.0 sends us straight away, not to Teilhard, but to Thomas Aquinas, whose prologue to Collationes in Decem Praeceptis tells us that "three things are necessary for man to be saved: namely, knowledge of what is to be believed, knowledge of what is to be desired, and knowledge of what is to be done." So let us abandon Teilhard and consult Thomas on that.
Scientia credendorum, scientia desiderandorum, et scientia operandorum: "The first," explains Thomas, "is taught in the creed, where knowledge of the articles of faith is given; the second is in the Lord’s prayer; the third is in the law." Each sheds light on the others, but we may content ourselves by observing that among the articles of faith are belief in creatio ex nihilo, which does not rest in a doctrine of emergence but on the fiat of the Father Almighty; belief in the incarnation, which does not entail a merger of divine and human natures but rather a unio personalis, in the Son, of two fully distinct natures; and belief in the power of the Holy Spirit, who will raise our mortal bodies from the dead and fit us for glory—an event, as Paul says, for which the whole creation longs. We might summarize thus: In the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come we are instructed to believe. For our share in it we are invited to pray, when we pray "Thy kingdom come." In expectation of it, we are invited to live, not in ungodly fear but in godly; which is also to say, in freedom, for we have not received a spirit of slavery that we should fall back into fear, but a spirit of adoption, whereby we know that if we suffer with Christ we shall also be glorified with him."
This being the case, the failure of so many Christians to resist the spirit of fear—the terror and the deluding influence that has gone abroad with covid into the world—is profoundly troubling. Does it betray a secret disbelief in the creed's et expecto and a corresponding weakening of the spirit of adoption? Is the gospel of the resurrection preached only at funerals, when the priests of Public Health are permitting funerals? Is it left unconnected to our sense of what it means to live in this world? Or was Karl Barth wrong to say that eschatology is the most practical thing that can be thought?
Barth did not get as far as sorting his own eschatology, mind you, and neither did Thomas; each man's magnum opus remained incomplete, with that field not properly tilled. About the latter's eschatology two things are noteworthy here. On the one hand, Thomas is clear about the goodness of the body, the redemption of the body, and the resurrection of the body. He is clear—marvelously clear, as the Corpus Christi sequence attests—about the body, our Lord's body, as gift. On the other hand, however, his anthropology is of an intellectualist bent. Bodily considerations, even when the body is perfected in glory, pertain not so much to man's esse as to his bene esse. The angelic doctor's notion of bliss is rather too angelomorphic. His vision of creation's consummation leaves little room for the organic. Certainly he did not follow the heretical path of Origen, as Teilhard did, but neither did he pursue patristic attempts to speak of the destiny of man as a rational animal; hence also as a social animal that is not fully itself, and in that sense not fully happy, if happy only in intellect. (This, I hasten to say, can be maintained without denying the bliss of the saints in glory who await what Jesus Christ already has; namely, the joy of resurrection from the dead and the privilege of advancing beyond the angels in glory.) Which left an opening for the innovators.
In his magnificent biography, Chesterton rightly focuses on Thomas's pressing of the Greeks into the service of Christ, not Christ into the service of the Greeks; on his certainty that the soul could neither despise the senses nor live in thrall to them, now that the Word had taken flesh; on his tenacious battle with "the inmost lie of the Manichees," who "identified purity with sterility" (Saint Thomas Aquinas, 109). But there was something just a bit sterile about Thomas's eschatology. As for AI-inspired eschatology, who could deny its Manichaean instincts? It does not find the work of the divine Spirit in the prophets, in the one holy catholic and apostolic church, in the one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, in the resurrection of the body and, just so, in the life of the world to come. It finds it rather in its own futuristic ambitions and speculations; in its global technocratic order and its Internet of Things; in its power to impose a secret character through nanotechnology and assigned identities; in a coming regime to which it gives names such as Techno-Humanism or Dataism. Call it the form angelomorphism takes in a world where no article of the Christian creed is conceded and angels are something we must make of ourselves if there are to be any.
Only when eschatology is left out of account is it possible to miss the despair percolating beneath the surface among devotees of the cult of progress and bubbling up among advocates of artificial intelligence. If Christians are to respond with a message of hope, while rebuking with conviction those who suppose that there are no insurmountable moral impediments to eugenic tinkering with man, or even to man's ultimate reinvention of himself as an angel of light in data-clouds of glory—who indeed think it divine thus to attempt the race's redemption—they will have to achieve eschatological clarity. They will have to offer a coherent anthropological alternative. When they have done that, perhaps they will be less inclined to hand over this mortal coil to whatever their would-be saviours dictate as belonging to their bene esse—including the conditions under which they may worship the Lord and Giver of life while awaiting their full adoption as sons.
11. That respect for the hierarchy of law is also necessary, articulated by civil disobedience
Thomas, with a little tweaking, can help. He can also help with recovery of a well-ordered hierarchy of law, within which civil law, the law of man, sits beneath and not above the eternal law of God, the natural law through which all men partake of the eternal law, and the dominical law delivered through the prophets and apostles. That is, he can help us overcome the faulty reflex of which we spoke earlier—a very pressing need, as Leo XIII recognized some time ago. For effective resistance to tyranny is still being suppressed in the churches by reading scripture through the lens of Luther's two kingdoms doctrine rather than through a Gelasian dyarchy lens, and the former does not allow the hierarchy in question to come into focus. It leaves a wide scope for disobedience where corrupt prelates are in view, but a very narrow scope where corrupt princes are in view. It allots the soul entirely to God, without any mediation save faith, but it allots the body almost entirely to the state, without any mediation at all. On that faulty scheme of things Hobbes and Rousseau seized, and secularism was born, rendering eternal, natural, and divine law redundant. But the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Therefore Christians cannot rightly admit such an arrangement.
Those who do admit it do so out of disordered loves and a consequent debilitating fear of man or, less culpably, out of some confusion about the common good, which they know they ought to seek. But claims to the common good are often uncommonly bad, especially in wartime. Has the language of war not crept into our public discourse about almost everything just because it permits the cutting of moral, legal, and logical corners in the name of the common good? There is a war on terror, on poverty, on disease, on racism, on climate change, on drugs, on money-laundering, on misinformation, etc., much of it counterproductive or covering up the very thing it is meant to expose and overcome. The war on covid is no exception; indeed, it is the most outstanding example, being a war of terror against peoples, customs, institutions and constitutions. Those who accept its methods, from mass manipulation to mass medical experimentation—who also push others to accept them through tweets or blogs or pastoral letters or commemorative coins or whatever else comes to hand—need to ask themselves hard questions about whether it really is the common good that motivates them. Those who do not question the legitimacy of orders that lack a foundation in law, or that having such a foundation nevertheless codify injustice, need reminding about the responsibility of the conscience to the hierarchy of law.
This Thomistic insight guides Leo in Libertas, where he warns us against "pursuit of what has a false appearance of good" and against respect for lawlessness falsely appearing as law. Law can and should support liberty, though it cannot compel it; pace Rousseau, one cannot be forced to be free. But genuine law requires genuine authority, and there is no genuine authority save what comes from God and remains subject to God, for God is the source both of law and of the liberty that law serves. Therefore his eternal law must be deemed "the sole standard and rule of human liberty, not only in each individual man, but also in the community and civil society which men constitute when united.”
Three things follow. First, we ought not to obey lower law that contradicts higher law; which is to say, civil law where it contradicts natural or divine law. “If then, by anyone in authority, something be sanctioned out of conformity with the principles of right reason, and consequently hurtful to the commonwealth, such an enactment can have no binding force of law, as being no rule of justice, but certain to lead men away from that good which is the very end of civil society.” Second, the rule of love dictates, as Aquinas insists, "that a man should not give way to his neighbour in evil, but only in good things, even as he ought to gratify his will in good things alone, so that his love for his neighbour may be a righteous love" (ST 2–2.44.7). Or, as Augustine puts it, “it is not kindness to cooperate in the loss of a greater good, nor blameless to acquiesce and to permit a slide into greater evil” (Civ. 19.16). Third, we must conclude with Leo that "the true liberty of human society does not consist in every man doing what he pleases, for this would simply end in turmoil and confusion, and bring on the overthrow of the State" (§10). Mill, in other words, was also mistaken. The purpose of positive law is neither to compel a man to live as he ought nor to enable him to live as he pleases. Its purpose is to leave him free to live as he ought.
To the extent that we have let these principles slip, or failed in our duty to teach and rebuke our neighbours for fear of offending those who might do us some temporal harm, we ourselves are partly responsible for the present turmoil and ought not to complain about our fate. Had the churches with one accord refused to submit to lockdowns, for example, thus defending the right to worship God publicly and all the other rights that spring from it, there would have been no lockdowns. And if no lockdowns, none of the tragedies to which lockdowns were precursive. Instead, the churches appealed to that high duty "to respect authority and obediently submit to just law," while overlooking the word "just" which Leo had carefully highlighted for them. They neglected to mention that "where the power to command is wanting, or where a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest, while obeying men, we become disobedient to God" (§13). They joined the skittish majority and walked "a road leading straight to tyranny," because they permitted authority to be "severed from the true and natural principle whence it derives all its efficacy for the common good" (§16). For long stretches they allowed religion to "have no claim to exist" as a public institution and everything that belongs to it to be "treated with complete indifference." They stood idly by while "ambitious designs on sovereignty" materialized before their eyes, often in the actions of unelected officials, without contesting them immediately in the courts of the Lord and afterwards in courts of law, as a few of those benighted fundamentalists did. The medical, political, and economic consequences are still unfolding, along with the designs themselves.
To thwart those designs, and to overcome those who have discovered the taste of forbidden power, we may not have to go as far as Thomas thought it might (very rarely) be necessary to go. But on the assumption that we have not seen the last of coercive mandates and unconstitutional restrictions, whether in healthcare or education or the environment or the economy or religion, we must prepare ourselves for organized civil disobedience. Even a form of ecclesiastical disobedience may be required; for it is not the case, alas, that only princes, and not prelates, sound a trumpet that turns us away from Christ.
Getty Images (courtesy of Nebuchadnezzar’s satraps, prefects, governors, counselors, treasurers, justices, magistrates, and all the officials of the province in question)
12. That we are engaged in a contest of catholicisms, between which we must choose
"Thou hast made the land to quake. Thou hast rent it open. Repair its breaches, for it totters. Thou hast made thy people suffer hard things; thou hast given us wine to drink that made us reel." Too true! But the same psalmist says: "You have set up a banner for those who fear you, to rally to it out of bowshot. Give victory with your right hand, and answer us, so that those whom you love may be rescued.” Here is the call to which we may and must answer—the call to rally to the banner of the risen and ascended One. He truly has the power to command and his commands are just. In his law all law coalesces. He sits at the right hand of God. He is well and truly out of bowshot.
I note that in Beijing, however, where what is right and just is often forbidden, the call to rally to a different banner went out, with impeccable timing, nine years ago. The Gates-funded "decade of vaccines" that would end with billions suffering lockdown was just getting under way. A communiqué identified as Document 9 informed the faithful that "all levels of Party and Government must pay close attention to their work in the ideological sphere and firmly seize their leadership authority and dominance." They must be fully aware "that struggles in the ideological sphere are perpetual, complex, and excruciating," demanding their best efforts. They must resist forcefully "influential and harmful false tides of thought," so that people could "distinguish between truth and falsehood." Leaders at higher levels, especially, must become adept at tackling problems "from a political, big-picture, strategic, and theoretical perspective." It was their task to "recognize the essence of false ideas and viewpoints ... and the practical political harm they can cause."
We must have a firm approach and clear-cut stance toward major political principles, issues of right and wrong, what to support and what to oppose. We must uphold strict and clear discipline, maintaining a high-level unity with the Party Central Committee under the leadership of General Secretary Xi Jinping in thought, political stance, and action. We must not permit the dissemination of opinions that oppose the Party’s theory or political line, the publication of views contrary to decisions that represent the central leadership’s views, or the spread of political rumours that defame the image of the Party or the nation.
That is how things are done in China, and how they are being done now in the West also. Our own elites' colours are showing clearly, as is their admiration for socialism with Chinese characteristics. They, too, having despised the gospel of Christ, seem determined to decide for everyone what is right and what is wrong, and to brook no opposition. It would be unfair to say that the churches have provided no opposition. Too rare, however, are the leaders, lay or clerical, who grasp that "struggles in the ideological sphere are perpetual, complex, and excruciating." Rarer yet are those willing to undertake anything very excruciating. Whittaker Chambers' Witness has gone mute.
Back in the day, when Leo spoke of restoring religion to its proper place in the arena of public reason, he could at least assume the foundations of religion; but even these are now in doubt. The woes of the fourth century, and of the sixteenth, have come upon us again in the twenty-first, touching even the chair of Peter. The new catholicism of which we spoke earlier is contending with the old inside the church as well as outside it. Loyalties are being tested, especially where it is pretended that there is no test, no competition; that the two catholicisms are one and the same, meeting, as Hegel himself might have said, in the beyond of Geist:
It is the Holy Spirit who constantly moves the Church ‘beyond’ itself into the magis—the ‘ever greater’—of God and God’s redeeming sacrifice for the life of the world. It is in this very movement of ‘beyond’ that the Church becomes ‘a communion in diversity’. Here, all find their voice and their place; here, all are affirmed.
The new catholicism represents an inverted integralism, under global governance, with a client church willing to exchange contrarianism for collaboration—the kind of collaboration displayed in Fratelli tutti and the Synod of the Amazon, or in Laudato si' with its peculiar combination of one-world politics and technocratic hesitancy. This collaboration is not altogether uncritical, but the hesitancy waxes and wanes. A blessing on GAVI's campaign to sink needles into every arm, in saecula saeculorum, has already been begged and bestowed, as that commemorative coin testifies. More will be asked in due course, and more offered.
Now, some don't like this kind of talk. They say we need look no further than the libido dominandi to account for the evils we have experienced. They see nothing more than a combination of political incompetence and corporate greed. They don't want to engage geopolitics and they certainly have no desire to discuss competing catholicisms. They might extend as far as the possibility that Pharma is sticking it to us yet again with fraudulent medical studies and faulty products, but no further. That is impossibly naive, however, even from a non-theological perspective. (In degree of naïveté it competes with the view that the pontiff is too theologically inept to understand his own words and actions.) To return to the axis with which we began, the authors of The Chinese Advantage in Emergency Law got it exactly right when they described our situation thus:
From the geopolitical perspective, the same "East" that the "West," in its capitalist expansion, has often characterized as legally uncivilized and, therefore, open to—and in need of—legal colonialism is now the model, conscious or unconscious, in the management of the pandemic, with an East-to-West inversion of [flow] in the battle for global hegemony whose long-term effects are still difficult to foresee... In this transformative process, [Western] law abdicates its sapiential role to become a mere bureaucratic tool of enforcement whose function is not to produce solutions to social problems, but to enact the technical knowledge developed in other intellectual fields.
I have no doubt that Chesterton would agree with them that "the nexus between law and capitalism is so stringent that all legal modernity could be reinterpreted as a theoretical framework for capitalist reproduction;" and that there is now a "desperate need for a critical, humanist, ecological, non-market-driven and counterhegemonic reorientation." (That assessment has a distributist ring to it, or could be given one.) But we have to go further yet if we hope to get at the essence of false ideas and viewpoints in covid time. We must delve into the spiritual, wrestling with the instrument of fear and with that of which it is the instrument. We must recognize the sterilizing intention rooted not only in industrialist or bureaucratic hubris but also in hatred of the body and of the body's creator—of the One who said, "be fruitful and multiply," and who also said, "go forth into all the world and make disciples of every nation."
Only when the diabolical drive to suppress both human and ecclesial fecundity is clearly identified will we understand what we are up against in the contest that has overtaken us. We are dealing with something even deadlier than greed or lust for power. Eugenics, contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, hysterical hypochondria, biodigital convergence, global technocracy, depopulation, transhumanist dataism—these lie along a trajectory mapped by some infernal logic. They also lie along an actual trajectory that we have been tracing out for over a century before arriving at our present hypochondriac moment, a trajectory along which we are gaining rather than losing speed, as if in some marvelous accelerator.
Clearly it is not a human flourishing accelerator. Those tending it know little, and desire nothing, of the fecundity of the new heavens and earth towards which scripture and creed point us. They are not interested in fructification, as doctor unitatis would say, but in stultification. Above all, they are intent on bringing about the collapse of the city of God, on scattering and grinding to dust those living stones with which it is being built, on preventing the hewing of any new stones required by the city's Architect. Many are those who do their bidding without the faintest inkling of what is really going on. They do not yet espy the hydra-headed beast that is gnosticism redivivus, now with catholic aspirations—the technocratic gnosticism that would dominate the earth, pressing every body into its Babel-building enterprise, its secure tower, its ladder of escape. Choices are nevertheless being made, and will have to be confirmed, for one cannot serve two masters.
Chesterton tells the story of St. Thomas at table with St. Louis in august and festive company. Oblivious to the festivities, the Dominican was brooding silently on "the Albigensian doctrine of sterility" and the dangers it posed to those who, though quick enough to denounce that doctrine, "were yet in an emotional mood to abandon the body in despair; and some of them to abandon everything in despair." To the startled amazement of all present, Thomas suddenly slammed a fist on the table, with the loud ejaculation: "And that will settle the Manichees!"
We are not told, unfortunately, what "that"was. Chesterton seems to think it had something to do with the new reason, to which we have already alluded, "for regarding the senses, and the sensations of the body, and the experiences of the common man, with a reverence at which great Aristotle would have stared, and no man in the ancient world could have begun to understand.” And surely it did, for the proper response to error is always a return to catholic confidence in the God who made man and the man God made.
Our own response may be a little less dramatic than Thomas's. One doesn't overcome the Chinese advantage in emergency law merely by slamming a fist on the table at dinner with some dignitary, even a saintly dignitary; or rein in the whole besotted bureaucracy, whether in Europe or America, by sending it to the Summa. But our response must be as determined as his, and as committed to defending the body—the body politic, the body of the common man or woman or child, and the body of the church as an extension of Christ's own body.
This will not be drama-free, of course, for we are often sent by our Lord back within bowshot. Civil disobedience can be costly. (Ask the Dutch farmers, who are reaping what the WEF Regional Action Committee sowed.) Religious strife likewise. This should not terrify us. We live in dramatic times, following the plot foretold by Jesus, who came not to bring peace but a sword. His counsel is to stick with the plot, and to keep moving.
Chesterton adverts to an earlier drama in Tommaso’s life in which his wealthy brothers sent round a prostitute to derail his plans to become an itinerant friar. Are we not facing a similar temptation? Prostitutes hailed by our own brethren are at the door and, if we mean to keep moving, we must have a firebrand to hand.
What is that firebrand? Not some political intrigue or exploit. Not a favourable verdict in a court of civil or ecclesiastical law. Not a concordat or an electoral victory. Not a stash of food or arms. All that, however useful, is merely the word of man or the sword of man. What, then, if not "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God"—the sword Jesus himself used in the desert, the sharp sword that cannot be wielded safely except by those who remain alert, fasting and praying "in the Spirit at all times"? Such is the sword we need, deployed in tandem with the political action par excellence, which is the Eucharist. For tests of fidelity there must be, and means of fidelity too.
On the whole world an hour of trial has come in the form of the eugenic health tyranny that the pandemic has served to advance. No doubt the form is preliminary, and the testing likewise. Covid time, certainly, is but a brief apocalypse. Yet the principles we establish in the face of it are the principles by which we will live or die, spiritually, in the contest with whatever the hour brings next. The manner of life we choose, or—unlike Thomas—permit to be chosen perversely for us, will yield the fruit proper to it. The company we cherish will be the company whose fate we share.