The Ancient Roots of the Anti-Catholic Mentality
An Introduction to the History of the “Black Legends”
(Una Voce America Newsletter, Summer, 2004; Spring, 2005)Repeated, dismissive, self-assured calls for “closure” and “moving on” after one or another horrendous event in our personal and public lives clearly highlight some of the most salient features of contemporary culture: its dislike and downright fear of preoccupation with matters of profound significance; its love affair with immediate, superficial experiences which can be jettisoned, daily, along with yesterday’s newspaper; its absolute certainty of the approval by its shallow populations of a “no-nonsense” dispatch of the basic stuff of human existence; and, finally, its insistence that pandering to surface phenomenon at the expense of thought-provoking reflection is not a frivolity, but actually the only truly weighty and useful approach that men and women who embrace real life with joy can entertain.
Catholicism, of course, can never be satisfied with this narrowing of human horizons to the concerns of the moment alone. A Catholic mentality uses serious events as a springboard for grave and sometimes very long-lasting meditation; it considers obsession with the petty, changing data of life to be unhealthy, a psychological flaw blinding people to the need to study the great matters, positive and negative, that shape reality; it knows, fears, and resists sinful man’s penchant for fleeing from the exalted to the vulgar; and it is convinced that it is only under the guidance of its broader outlook that the meaning of individual and social life can be fully grasped and become practically fruitful.
This conflict of mindset is one of the many reasons why contemporary culture loathes Catholicism. Unfortunately, the very nature of that mindset also tells modern society that it has achieved “closure” on the subject of its troubled relationship with the Church as a whole. It thus prohibits modernity from studying whence its hatred and the varied elements underlying it have emerged, where they have led, and what they really signify. Hence, our age’s self-satisfied reliance on a set of unexamined “Black Legends” to explain and reject its Catholic enemy, and then “move on”. After all, knowledge of Catholicism’s true character would require a fuss and bother which modernity’s dominant, shallow ideology orders it to direct elsewhere.
Anyone studying the modern preference for the shallow over the profound, its general war against Christendom, and its willing acceptance of ignorant Black Legends to dismiss the “absurdity” and ultimate “irrelevance” of its opponent must begin his labors in the ancient, pagan world. For the spirit of anti-Catholicism is older than our religion itself. It began being shaped long before the Christian Era was born, in the Classical Greece of the Fifth and Fourth Centuries B.C., especially in the period of the Peloponnesian War and its dismal aftermath (431-336 B.C.). This is because Greece, as the home of the first insightful discussion of the meaning and practice of education, paideia, called forth that primary battle between those concerned with substantial and surface phenomenon, which Catholic Christianity then intensified and brought down more effectively to the level of the ordinary man.
Epic, lyric, and dramatic poets were the first teachers of Hellas. They sought answers to the basic issues of life by asking aesthetic questions, queries regarding the meaning of beauty. Aesthetic preoccupations led them to tackle the problem of how best to educate for a knowledge and possession of “the Beautiful”. That hunt for the tools essential to a primarily aesthetic formation slowly uncovered the need for consultation with, and guidance from, a variety of different sources: the individual and his immediate desires, the family and its long-term requirements for stability, and the demands of the polis, the city-state, in its search for attainment of a common as opposed to a merely individual or familial “beautiful” life.
The reputation of the polis as an aesthetic, educative, guiding force was enormous at the end of the Persian Wars (490-479 B.C.). Athens and Sparta, its two greatest contemporary representatives, had assured its prestige by winning a victory over the most impressive power in the world, before which, in contrast, a number of important individuals and purely family-dominated Greek lands had cowered. Such an unexpected but clear triumph made it appear that the community-focused polis could, in effect, accomplish anything. It was for this reason that Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.), in his Oristeia trilogy, has an unending cycle of superhuman vengeance and counter-vengeance concluded through polis-shaped (i.e., political) judicial action. Beauty, education, and the polis, one might have said; now and forever; one and inseparable.
Unfortunately, however, it was precisely the same cherished polis of Athens and Sparta which revealed insane, self-destructive passions and limitations during and after the Peloponnesian War, thereby stimulating further discussion of the basic tools required for a proper education for possession of beauty. Control of the renewed dialogue passed out of the hands of the poets alone, who had said everything that they could possibly say on all sides of this issue of paideia by the time of Euripides (480-406 B.C.). Greece now even witnessed the emergence of a quite different approach towards education, along the lines suggested by the first philosophers, the so-called pre-Socratics, who wished to replace an aesthetic understanding of man and nature with one founded firmly upon knowledge of the material structure of the universe, its constituent “scientific” elements.
Pre-Socratic approaches to life and education proved to be too radical a break with the traditional aesthetic vision for the mainstream Greek world to accept. They were rejected, in particular, by two schools of thought which were themselves destined to lock horns in mortal combat. One of these schools was that of the Sophists, men concerned with rhetoric, the successful use of language, who, in effect, argued that the old-line aesthetic method was correct, but that it needed to be organized, taught, and followed much more rigorously if it were to become a sure foundation for the individual and society. The other was the school of Socrates (469-399 B.C.), who, while also retaining much of the traditional aesthetic approach to education, recognized a need to critique, transform, and elevate it. The battle that this entailed was catalogued for us not by Socrates but by his most brilliant pupil, Plato (427-347), in his struggle with Isocrates (436-338), perhaps the most self-conscious proponent of the sophistic, rhetorical approach.
Plato’s great achievement as a philosopher and as an educator was that of demonstrating that the classical Greek formation of an individual for the possession of the beautiful required an understanding both of the nature of goodness as well as of the underlying truths of the universe towards which the pre-Socratics seemed to be groping. He showed Socrates, his model teacher, to be a “soul doctor”, a man who demanded the cure of moral and intellectual flaws in his continued hunt for aesthetic perfection. Education for beauty in the fullest possible sense was, Plato insisted, a project drawing the individual closer and closer to God, the measure of all things, shaping his soul as an image or icon of the divine as he advanced. Every tool that the Greeks had come to consider to be important, the polis included, had a crucial role to play in this all-encompassing, life-long enterprise. Nevertheless, those valuable tools were all flawed. Paradoxically, they themselves required correction and improvement at the hands of the individual “icons” that they helped to shape. This meant that soul doctoring could be a confusing and immensely difficult task, involving much meditation and self-questioning; an enterprise which could not help but appear to be a pointless, frustrating detour to those on a perpetual hunt for “get possession of beauty quick” schemes.
“Pointlessly frustrating” was certainly the criticism attached to Platonic education by Isocrates, who claimed the title of philosopher with as great a fervor as his fellow Athenian did. Still, apt student of the Sophist Gorgias that he was, Isocrates understood philosophy to be a wisdom that only the trained rhetorician could possibly grasp and use properly. His definition of any Good or Truth underlying the Beautiful had to differ considerably from that of the Socratics in consequence.
For Isocrates, there was no question of seriously critiquing, transforming, and possibly even rejecting the preoccupations of the ordinary man. Man was the measure of all things, and unquestionably correct in his “common sense” concern for obtaining the riches, power, and fame that he knew would yield the beautiful life. The average individual’s sole problem was a technical one: he could not relate one justifiable common sense experience to another, and thereby understand how best to exploit and satisfy them regularly and comprehensively. His efforts to explain his reactions to daily problems both to himself as well as to others proved to be “dumb” ones. It was effective words, and the arguments shaped through them, that were lacking to him. Only the well trained rhetorician, the master of words, could clarify the full depth of common sense experiences, show where they were headed, and stir people to do what was necessary to fulfill their promise. The Good and the True are, therefore, ultimately nothing other than “appropriate” explanations and developments of those common sense reactions to the raw stuff of daily life which are themselves absolutely infallible guides to the possession of Beauty.
To take but one simple example, the average person might be said to have eminently justifiable, positive, common sense reactions to the powerful experience of sexual passion. Nevertheless, without the right words and arguments to explain his “opinions” regarding this formidable force de la nature, he is not able to relate the meaning of his experience properly even to himself. Pragmatic efforts to gain the full promise of sexuality and cause it to work together with other experiences about which he has positive “opinions” are even further out of his reach. It is the rhetorician who illuminates Everyman through the use of appropriate and stimulating words, demonstrating the key to sexual understanding and its link with the multitude of other desirable goals. Everyman knows that the rhetorician is speaking appropriately when he sees how clearly and consistently his advice responds to his own preoccupations, and how the self-assurance of the master of words is crowned with the success for which he longs. Hence, Isocrates’ recognition of his need to underline the simplicity, lucidity, harmony of purpose, confidence, and material achievements of his pupils, while contrasting them with the cranky detours, self-criticisms, bitter divisions, and practical failures of the Socratics.
Isocrates longed to prove rhetoric’s ability to gain possession of the Beautiful on a grand, world scale. In order for him to find the key to such great success, the philosopher/rhetorician had to begin with the study of the raw experiences and the common sense reaction to them not merely of an individual, but of an entire people, since a city-state or nation alone could conceivably become a driving force in global events. The work of Herodotus (484-424), Thucydides (mid-400’s-403?), Xenephon (430?-355?), and others offered guidelines as how to how such historical data might be collected. Rhetoricians like Isocrates saw one of their tasks as being that of explaining to a population the appropriate greatness to which its otherwise “dumb” historical experiences were calling it. History thus came very early under rhetorical purview and influence, partly to its profit, since it became more readable and effective, but very often to its severe detriment, being transformed into a tool of propaganda .
From the raw history of his environment, Isocrates claimed to learn a number of important principles: that there actually was a Greek people, united by a shared culture, Hellenism; that the essence of Hellenism was the development of the illuminating, life-giving, and unifying “word”; that the universal value accruing from appropriate use of the word gave the Greece which possessed knowledge of its significance a world-wide cultural mission; that this universal vocation had been shown to involve the sea, struggle against Persia, and imperial expansion; and that Hellenist destiny would require a simultaneous concern for the “good old days” of the foundation of the Greek spirit and the institutions giving clout to it, as well as for the shaping a loyal population obedient to any vigorous, strong man who might guide it to its contemporary fulfillment, all stirred to positive political roles by the vital words of the creative rhetorical genius.
But philosophy, as defined by Isocrates, constitutes a gigantic circle, manipulated by the rhetorician who, through the clever use of appealing words and images, seizes control of the familiar concerns of the average man or State and runs with them where he wills. Common sense experience is pronounced the infallible basis for action simply because it is declared to be common sense experience and the infallible basis for action. Successful attainment of riches and power is said to prove the appropriateness of the rhetorician’s guidance of Everyman to the beautiful life because possession of riches and power is presented as axiomatic proof that beauty is in his grasp. Respect for the “good old days”, current strong men, and obedient populations is essential because denial of such reverence would be tantamount to putting into doubt the destiny for whose fulfillment the rhetorician insists these forces exist in the first place. Absolutely no questioning of “common sense”, “success”, the “historic mission” and the consistency of the tools required for its realization could be contemplated, lest this lead to the unacceptable argument that common sense, success, the historical mission, and its vital tools were themselves problematic. Isocrates, as Werner Jaeger notes, makes a virtue out of abandoning any deeper investigation of the meaning of life once he has shaped what for him appears to be a rhetorically beautiful “point of view’ with a chance of obtaining a successful outcome. That “point of view”, if attractive, must be accepted as Truth itself. With this, the debate is over. Closure has been achieved. One must move on to accomplishment of the Great Promise, or face the wrath of the rhetorician and the outraged nature whose infallible voice he has proclaimed himself to be.
And the rhetorician is powerful indeed. He knows that he can count on the support of individual, family, or polis-wide “common sense” passions in his call for their immediate satisfaction. He senses the understandable and well-neigh universal fear that Socratic self-criticism would paralyze action, preventing exploitation of favorable opportunities to fulfill desire, causing men to “lose out” on success, perhaps even to the very moment of death. The rhetorician, with his mastery of words, can paint the profound, life-determining, “either-or” option offered to men by Sophists and Socratics in all of its dramatic colors, but weighted to his advantage. Afterwards, any Socratic who calls the average man to logical, painful soul-searching at the possible expense of satisfying immediate passion becomes a sitting duck for rhetorical abuse. He lends himself to the accusation of representing both a crackpot idealism, indifferent to the obvious demands of human nature, as well as a cynical opposition to the successes of “real men”, whom he cannot emulate, bitterly envies, and wishes to destroy in consequence.
Plato was himself a literary genius, sensitive to the power of purely rhetorical arguments over the average man, and the need to respond to them “beautifully” to demonstrate their flaws. He did so reply, by showing the pure rhetorician to be a self-deluding failure. Contrary to what such a man argued, his influence arose precisely from his inability to educate those whom he claimed to be illuminating. For Plato, the “word” spoken by the rhetorician styling himself to be a philosopher could itself never rise above “dumb” opinion, and merely illustrated a trained man’s ability effectively to flatter peoples’ fancies. Rhetoricians possessed what he called a “knack” of appealing to a particular appetite, like that of a cook in a fast-food restaurant, ignoring entirely the question of whether such an admittedly successful flattery and knack ought to have been indulged in the first place. The successful rhetorician deceives himself into thinking that he is superior to his “wordless” audience, but he is simply more effectively thick than it is. His words resemble an overbearing and endlessly repeated rock rhythm in a room filled with impressionable, but musically illiterate hedonists. They fail to elevate, just as any tool that uses man, rather than God, as the measure of all things falls miserably short of its pretensions. Anyone responding to the “either-or” option confronting him by choosing for the rhetorician would, therefore, be voting for eternal mediocrity and blindness. Sadly, precisely due to the rhetorician’s observable knack for maintaining power over the vulgar mob, the pathetic outcome of such a wrong choice could conceivably be hidden from its victims forever. False rhetorical philosophers needed only to do two things: enthusiastically to invent ever “new” surface variants on the proven appealing slogans to keep men thinking that fulfillment of the brilliant promise of the Empty Life lay just around the corner; and constantly to drill into a benumbed population’s mind the fear of the “dead-end” impotence that the Socratic hunt for a more profound goal would ensure.
One of Plato’s painful labors was that of explaining instances of this seeming Socratic impotence, the disaster of his own political missions to Dion in Sicily in 388 and 367 being primary among them. Such shipwrecks, he argued, were not attributable to philosophy’s innate inability to navigate effectively. Rather, they were simply another confirmation of the difficulty and very infancy of the task that the real lover of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth had set for himself. Yes, he admitted, philosophy needed the aid of rhetoric, of the lesser “word” to explain itself successfully to a world filled with ambiguous though powerful passions, and convince it to change its ways. But that secondary “word” must always be subordinated to a deeper Word, the Logos towards whose ultimate knowledge it was meant to be employed. Alas!, at least in Plato’s own day, it had proven to be “hard to find the creator and father of the world”, and “impossible to describe his nature publicly.” Men could not yet be guided properly to the divine imitation that would definitely perfect them and give them possession of the Beautiful. As dilemmas went, this certainly was a killer, and Plato feared that it would remain an unresolved one unless “some God” came to the earth to unravel it.
Faulty or not, the ideas of his opponents helped to form that mixed Greek/Middle Eastern/Latin civilization which we call the Hellenistic World. This new reality did demonstrate the literal value of the Greek language, whose superiority in transmitting manifold, complex concepts was universally recognized. It also reflected all of the potential practical consequences of a cosmos shaped by a purely rhetorical “word” alone. For Hellenistic Civilization was one that did indeed work for the “common sense” benefit of men, though only of those “vigorous strong men” praised by the rhetorician as essential for fulfillment of its mission. These leaders learned to create and manipulate powerful state machinery for the purpose of keeping the “dumb” mass of the population in submission. “Doers of great deeds”, from Alexander through to the Caesars and the Senatorial Aristocracy of the Roman Empire that worked with them, were willing to tolerate satisfaction of certain specific, immediate desires of the multi-cultural, pluralist world over which they ruled. Still, this had to be at the price of its constituent elements accepting “closure” regarding matters that might disturb what really counted: the personal power, wealth, and fame of the victors.
Rhetoricians were very active from the 300’s B.C. through the 300’s A.D., providing the Hellenistic cosmos, or ecumene, the arguments proving that the debate over who possessed the things that made life beautiful, and what those things were was over. They contributed mightily to efforts to overcome “parochial” religious “superstitions” whose concerns might threaten the status quo. Such integration of divisive elements involved publicizing the need to submit to and adore the superior divinity of the State apparatus and the self-made men who dominated it. “Closure” had been achieved in the realm of the gods as well as that of men, and the “word” could now “move on”.
It moved on by devoting itself to legal and civil service careers, and to sickly praise or boring, encyclopedic chronicling of the existing, unchangeable order of things, thereby sharing in any trickle-down benefits its Divine Masters permitted. It moved on by finding substantial employment producing that esoteric, archaic, and pointless heap of pretty sounds and properly placed commas adulated by exclusivist literary circles. Failing that, it moved on by churning out pornographic material for the gross diversions of a rabble ever tempted to accept subordination and abandon true enlightenment for cheap material satiety. The spiral downward from the more sophisticated “apologetic” writings and literary achievements of earlier Hellenistic regimes to the servile, pedantic, and vulgar oeuvre of much of the so-called Second Sophistic of the 2nd through 4th Centuries, A.D. is instructive. It reminds one, anew, of Plato’s argument that word merchants indifferent to true philosophy were destined to a low-class butchering of even their own art and talent. One need only consult the biographies and stories to be found in Aulius Gellius’ (123-165) Attic Nights, the 2nd Philostratus’ (c. 170-248), Lives of the Sophists, Eunapius’ (346-414) Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists, Diogenes Laertius’ (no later than 200’s) Lives of Eminent Philosophers, and Athenaeus of Naucratis’ (200’s) Doctors at Dinner to test the validity of his hypothesis.
Ironically, however, solid philosophy itself ended by adapting nicely to the depressing, conformist, “common sense” rules established by a degenerate, power-worshipping, rhetorically justified cosmos. This was partially due to certain innate weaknesses of schools of thought like Stoicism. Stoic insistence on the purposeful structure of the universe, in the absence of a concept of sin, tempted it into treating accommodation to the successful status quo as though it were obedience to the will of God. Acceptance of the idea of universal purposefulness also convinced many Stoics that crude popular experiences of reality, including truly offensive superstitious practices, should be approached seriously as well, even if often only as fuel for more “sophisticated” (dare we say “appropriate”?) explanations of their deeper meaning. Indeed, even Plato’s passionate rhetorical embrace of the use of allegory to explain complex truths could be called upon to defend this dressing up of popular opinion. Finally, Neo-Platonists, with their admittedly exalted discussion of the existence of a Hierarchy of Being leading to the final, divine, unchangeable principle of the universe, also became propagandists for the powers that be. They were fearful that any disorder and alteration in the political and social world could open the path to what they considered to be a totally unacceptable conception of change, willfulness, and unpredictable action on the part of the very Godhead itself.
It was at this point, however, that the Divinity whom Plato said might have to intervene in human events to resolve the dilemma of possession of Beauty did just that: He intervened. Through the Incarnation, the establishment of the Church, and the offer of the gift of Faith and Grace, God called men to complete the march to the fullness of wisdom and individual “divinization”. He thus injected a vibrant new force into the “stable” ancient cosmos. Christians were summoned to reject “closure”. They were told that they could not “move on” under the old rules. The debate over what was required to complete life’s voyage had to be reopened. All the tools of antiquity needed to be re-examined, and, if found to be lacking, transformed through Christian Light. But from the standpoint of those willingly imprisoned in a familiar, rhetorically justified strait-jacket, this meant that a revolutionary Monster had leaped into their Peaceable Kingdom.
Hence, the emergence of a strange alliance, a kind of United Nations of the Status Quo, co-opting all who were contented, for varied reasons, with “closure”, and repelled by rabble-rousers who would not allow men to “move on” to “get the real job of life done”. Participants in this alliance were legion. They included the many-headed tribe of legal and literary rhetoricians; those philosophers who were convinced that the existing, dominant order must necessarily be the true one, and others worried about the turmoil that the personal Christian God could bring into a universe where everything had been hung so carefully on its proper, immovable peg; the ordinary man, whether highborn or low, fearful lest satisfaction of his customary pointless or lewd appetites be disturbed by an exhortation to avoid sin and strive for higher rewards. Heretical Christians eventually sought membership in this alliance, too, such as those Gnostics, expelled from the Church for following up on the teaching of their greatest teacher, Mani (200’s A.D.), who urged them to use language to deconstruct the message of salvation and reshape it to suit their own nature-hating purposes. Even Church authorities themselves could be found in its ranks, as time-serving bishops saw how their restraint of Christian militancy could be useful to the status quo, gaining for them all the paybacks enjoyed by earlier rhetorical lap dogs of the regime.
Our United Nations of the Status Quo pursued its program with a variety of eminently successful tools. One of these was a conspiracy of silence, many of the great literary men of the late Roman period writing as though Christianity simply did not exist and would therefore quietly go away. This approach was complemented by an attempt to hide a clear understanding of the real substance and history of our religion. To that end, all obviously popular and beneficial Christian fruits were attributed to anti-Christian beliefs and labors, Christianity being held responsible only for what was deemed dangerous to the State and to the passions of the men of common sense. Rhetorical ability and fervor embellished this entire mish-mashed story. In short, the United Nations of the Status Quo developed the stuff of what would become a library of dramatic Black Legends, the full flavor of which I will present in future articles. Whenever circumstances permitted, these Black Legends could now be brought before the eyes of the Established Authorities, with the accompanying demand that force be applied to re-establish the wonderful world of productive closure anew.
Great strength was shown by this rhetorically-armed alliance through its ability to appeal to the aforementioned “either-or” option. It called men irresistibly to the same overwhelming choice: support “either” its point of view, rooted in common sense desire, protection of order, and successful pandering to the familiar, obvious joys of the great and small, “or” enter onto the Christian path, with its paradise “seen through a glass, darkly”, its self-denial, and the endless disruption that Christ said His sword had brought into the world. With this “either-or” alternative, it continually tempted the resolve not only of the clueless, but also that of the faithful. For, ultimately, not one of us is infallibly protected from doubt.
Strength came as well from the rhetorical refusal to admit that qualitative questions were at stake here, requiring it to find different, more substantive justifications for promotion of its position. Each time any given argument on its behalf did not work, it simply called forth a handy “new deal” out of its full, one-dimensional, surface bag of tricks—this being “new” only in the sense that it varied a word or an image to describe its ever monotonous qualitative sameness. Each readily available “new deal” or “new frontier” could then be proclaimed some specially brilliant chance for gaining the Beautiful Life that meaning-obsessed Christians would have men critique and lose. Hence, the same, unchanging, underlying appeal to common sense, the spirit and institutions of the Good Old Days, the great men and loyal, obedient populations needed to assure the fulfillment of the Mission, the limited passions of the vulgar mob, and the importance of silencing or misinterpreting “naïve” and “cynical” questioning of the golden opportunity could be repeated in a billion varied forms. But an anti-Christian Pragmatism, Foundation, and Imperial Mission are just as dangerous if pursued by pagan rulers or those appealing to the Manifest Destiny of the United States as standard bearer for freedom-loving mankind on the lookout for a good deal. The world has heard it all before, sugared differently according to taste, if not with chocolate topping, then with vanilla or mocha.
Given the fact that this United Nations could draw arguments, at will, from all of its many diverse constituent elements, it was also armed with the capacity seriously to confuse anyone honestly seeking to counter its assault. For just when a more logical mind might think that he was debating successfully on a relatively sophisticated historical plane, the UNSQ could level an argument drawn from and appealing to its truly vulgar supporters. This change of tactics would require a corresponding alteration of defensive strategy from the Christian, a lowering to the demagogic level. That modification could then itself, in turn, be condemned by insisting that dialogue take place on the rigorous philosophical or refined aesthetic plane favored by still other members of the alliance. If the befuddled Christian, always responding to attack, and never taking the initiative in this cat and mouse game, sought to discuss the absurdity of constantly changing the basic character of the argumentation, the customary rhetorical sigh of frustration could be audibly emitted. For, once again, as with Plato, time was being demanded for a diversion from the real task of “moving on” in order to satisfy the unrewarding, abstract speculations of impotent, loser “enemies of mankind”. In the Kingdom of the Illogical it is the wily one who generally calls the shots. And in doing so, he drives the sane man mad.
Still, our United Nations of the Status Quo was not without its weaknesses. Like the modern exemplar from which I have drawn its name, its varied members were their own own Soviet Unions and United States of Americas, temporarily united in opposing a common foe, but ever poised to fight out irreconcilable difference should their joint combat someday cease. Rhetoricians supporting one “beautiful vision” serving the established authorities were girded therein against any upstart colleagues who might begin touting another; philosophers unwilling to be used purely for intellectual ornamental purposes chafed under rhetorical domination; have-nots envious of the people who had “made it” could rise up to satisfy the fullness of their own uncontrollable passions. “Time Bomb” might be a better name for this alliance, since, the exaggerated fancies of conspiratorial theorists notwithstanding, no absolutely reliable, indissoluble glue held its members miraculously together.
But could their divisions be exploited for Catholic benefit, so that the Black Legends they created, and through which they all prospered might be uncovered and effectively refuted ? Catholic History offers an ambiguous answer to that question. Instances of victorious Christian battling of powerful, rhetorically-crafted lies are available, but, sadly, they are buried amidst many more indications of dismal failure in this enterprise. I intend to investigate a variety of such examples over the course of articles to come.
One fact seems absolutely clear to me in plowing through the divided evidence of the historical record of the Catholic resistance. Cleverly constructed Black Legends, fueled by half truths and outright lies, can only be overturned by a Christianity that accepts all the lessons of the Incarnation, and honestly uses the full arsenal of tools that God and nature provide to protect itself. A Christianity that roots its supernatural “newness” in the whole of God’s nature would not hunt for answers to its problems in the immediate experiences of its own time bound world, but in all of divine and human history. In doing so, it would come to appreciate that it must fight its enemies not just with abstract theological arguments, even when these are supported by the philosophical strength that comes from the Socratics. It would also embrace the just use of rhetoric in all of its forms, which Plato himself saw a need to snatch from the hands of rootless Sophists. In short, only a full, Incarnational Truth, seeking the Good, gaining full, supernatural possession of the Beautiful, and living a life of active imitation of God through transformation in Christ can prevent a premature “closure” in a world tempted by the lesser “word”. Only this can “move on” to restore the Christian Order that we have seen torn down around us by men possessed by the libido for the ugly.
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