Against What Do We Fight? On Cardinal Dias at Lambeth | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | August 19, 2008
"Of course, we must always be alert to proclaim Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:4), in whom everyone may find the fullness of religious life, and in whom God the Father has reconciled all things to Himself." -- Ivan Cardinal Dias, "Evangelization challenge: be exemplary Christians" July 22, 2008.
Ivan Cardinal Dias is the former archbishop of Mumbai (Bombay) and currently the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. He seems to be a rather outspoken gentleman, considered by some definitely papabile. One web site shows him burning incense at a Hindu Shrine, while another report has him amusingly telling the Anglicans that they are suffering from "spiritual Alzheimer's disease!"
L'Osservatore Romano (July 30, 2008) provides the text of an address that Cardinal Dias gave to the recent Anglican Conference at Lambeth (July 22, 2008). The address is quite lively, but I want to cite some things from it that are not often discussed any more, but which are both within our tradition and well worth considerable reflection.
In his address—the theme of the conference was "Mission, Social Justice, and Evangelization"—Dias goes back through scripture to cite the "sending forth" of the Apostles and Paul. He notes that Christ in the synagogue at Nazareth gave from Isaiah, as signs of the validity of His mission, the fact that the poor were preached to, the sick healed, and liberty was extended to captives.
The New Testament depicts the Last Judgment as having to do with our charity towards others. "The missionary mandate thus makes us enter into the very heart of God, who wills all men, women, and children to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth." These words are also from Paul. The truth and what we do for others are not contradictory to each other but require one another.
Thus far, all of this exhortation is familiar to us. The New Testament is given that we know God, the Father, in his Word, but, on knowing Him, we are sent forth to the nations. Our faith is not complete without deeds. Deeds usually do not come forth unless we believe in Him who sent us.
At this point, Dias broadened the scope of his discussion. This is the part that I found particularly interesting. Dias takes us back to the temptation of our first parents in Eden. This scene is always remarkably fruitful to examine carefully. This is what Dias said:
The theme of evangelization must be considered in the wider context of the spiritual combat which began in the Garden of Eden with the fall of our first parents, in the wake of the fierce hostilities between God and the rebel angels. If this context is ignored in favour of a myopic world-view, Christ's salvation will be conveniently dismissed as irrelevant.A "myopic worldview," as I take it, would be one that excludes the awareness that our everyday lives are also set against this more transcendent spiritual struggle. We are all involved in it somehow.
As I had recently read Raymond Dennehy's Soldier Boy: The War between Michael and Lucifer (see "Ultimate Battles", Ignatius Insight [August 7, 2008]), I found this reminder of Ivan Dias to be of particular interest. We forget that Christ is interested in the salvation of each soul, the loss of which to the devil's care would be a great disaster. But this loss, if it occurs, would include our freely agreeing to follow Satan, to also fall down and adore him, as he asked Christ to do in the temptations in the desert. We can only be tempted, not forced; grace is sufficient.
Paul says, in a memorable passage, that our battles are against principalities and powers (Eph. 6:12). Anyone, like Dennehy, who is familiar with the subtle and overt attacks on innocent human life that are justified in the abortion and euthanasia industries, with those of other closely related aberrations, cannot but suspect that Dias is saying something here which, though part of our heritage, is seldom heard today. We think the war is merely against the media, or the professors, or the politicians. We sometimes wonder why there is so much hatred of human life about it, however genteelly formulated.
Mary Jo Anderson, in remarking on the Dennehy book, writes: "When we think of the worst systematic/institutional sins in our culture, they are all concentrated in the life issues: contraception, abortion, euthanasia, cloning, embryonic stem cell research. All of these are attacks on human life. Satan focuses his energy on the pulse points of human life. He does this of course since Satan cannot make baby demons." That connection between the incapacity of a spirit to create other spirits, only seduce them and human beings away from their real origin, is one I had never thought of before.
Dias has his own list of what flows from a "secularism, which seeks to build a Godless society." Perhaps we should recall that it was at a Lambeth Conference back in 1931 in which a Christian ecclesial body first justified contraception. This official act was but the first step in the deviations that, I suspect, ultimately includes in its far-reaching logic, not just euthanasia, abortion, and cloning, but even the recent proposals to ordain women and gays to the episcopacy. The logic of decline seems always to lead us back to the Garden, as the Cardinal suggests.
Dias' own list, as I mentioned, sees a clear connection between the loss of a reason for God and what we do.
Examples of this culture are abortions on demand (or the slaughter of innocent unborn children), divorces (which kill sacred marriage bonds blessed by God), materialism and moral aberrations (which suffocate the joy of living and lead often to profound psychic depression), economic, social and political injustices (which crush human rights), violence, suicides, murders, and the like, all of which abound today and militate against the mind of Christ, who came that all may have life, and have it in abundance (John 10:10).Well, this is quite a list, much of which could be duplicated in other times and places. What is important about it is the vivid sense that these results stem from ideas first formulated in our minds and gradually carried into reality with more and more deviation from the good as they go along. A reading of Screwtape or Dennehy is a reminder of how this decline works in practice.
Dias pulls few punches. "This combat rages fiercely even today, aided and abetted by well-known secret sects, Satanic groups and New Age movements, to mention but a few, and reveals many ugly heads of the hideous anti-God monster..." As I recall, several years ago in Mexico the then Cardinal Ratzinger spoke in a similar fashion about such movements which we tend to write off as simply crazy or irrelevant. (See my essay, "Ratzinger on the Modern Mind", Homiletic & Pastoral Review, October, 1997). The "culture of death," as Dias calls it, is especially concerned with the family and youth.
Dias does not forget that these issues cut to the very soul of each of us through his own will. He also understands that other religions and philosophical movements are out to convert us to their way of life. "There is the vast gamut of non-Christian religions and cultures, with their varied scriptures and sages, prayers and symbols, places of worship and ascetical practices, each exercise a deep influence on the thoughts and lifestyles of its followers." Such traditions are historically extremely difficult to convert to Christianity. India, China, Islam, and the Buddhist world remain barely touched. One wonders if Diaz intends to relate this difficulty to the principalities and powers that lie behind the struggles of the world. Ecumenism and dialogue usually speak only to what is in common, not to the sources of what is different.
Finally, Dias makes one last observation about the modern scientific tradition which, on the one hand, seems immune from the ultimate spiritual battles depicted by Paul, but, on the other, seems to be preached and held as if it too were a counter-religion.
This mosaic of religions and cultural "isms" is now complicated by a deep questioning about man's identity and purpose in life, rising from the human and social, as well as the physical sciences. While this soul-searching questioning about human life and purpose could be an appropriate context for the proclamation of the Gospel, many answers being proposed in our post-modern world have become disconnected from authoritative sources of moral reasoning, ignoring the transcendental dimension of life and seeking to make God irrelevant.I take this passage to mean that, while at first sight we have a real evangelical opportunity, our own intellectual ability to seize this occasion is undermined by our own intellectual confusions about what is true and good.
Dias hints, at least, that the roots of this intellectual confusion about post-modernity are those traced out by Benedict in the "Regensburg Lecture," in which he sketched out the background of modern man's inability and unwillingness to consider the transcendent God.
Dias concludes with a long citation from the early Epistle to Diognetus about living calmly among our fellow citizens, at least if we can. The importance of this short address to the Anglicans, is, I think, that it underscores the suspicion we all sense at times, namely, that something more than mere human will is at work in the aberrations of our time. The bitterness and opposition to the Gospel in our time, even with the most sensible and common sense positions that seem obvious, like all abortions kill actual babies, carries with it a special hatred for human life as such.
We need not go overboard here and attribute everything to the devil, so that we let ourselves off the hook. Dias simply recalls something that is in Scripture itself. The fact that he does so before Anglican bishops is, no doubt, significant. "This combat rages fiercely even to this day...." We wonder if this lecture by an Indian Cardinal to the Anglican lords does not put its finger on what is really behind much of our public turmoil.
A spiritual combat for our very souls does exist. We, in our sophistication, are loathe to consider it possible. This turmoil in fact is caused by how we choose about life, about transcendence, about our real destiny with God, with its relation to how we live, and, finally, about who it is who continues to teach us the truth about them.
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Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007). His most recent book is The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). Read more of his essays on his website.
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