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Life in the Anthropocene Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Sunday, 22 September 2013

It is a conceit of radical environmentalists that the earth has entered a New Epoch. The idea, circulated in the 1980s and before, was popularized by Paul Crutzen at the turn of this century. A Dutch atmospheric scientist, and global warming activist, he is among the twenty-one Nobel laureates who signed the most recent Humanist Manifesto – thereby winning a place on my private Enemies List, which is sort of like Richard Nixon’s, except much longer.

Indeed, in the good old days, before global warming, Prof. Crutzen was warning us about global cooling, via nuclear winter. “Always something,” as Gilda Radner used to say.

According to Crutzen, our planet is being transformed by stunning population growth, sprawling megacities, and burning of fossil fuels. This will cause extinctions on the geological scale. Our agricultural production will collapse and we're all gonna die.

Unless, of course, we carefully follow his directions.

The New Epoch in which we are living, the “Anthropocene,” is like the Holocene with wheels on. Gentle reader will recall from his high school geology that the older term was given to the time since the last Ice Age, when people peopled the earth (thanks to global warming). But now it is new and improved, and the new, New Epoch started yesterday.

It is impossible to know when epochs begin or end until they are well behind us; and even then there is room for debate. A hundred million years from now, I'll give you the consensus on what age we were in.

We turn to ecclesiastical affairs, wherein a New Epoch has also been declared. It is associated with the Aparecida document, generated by an assembly of Latin American bishops, meeting by the great Brazilian Marian shrine in 2007. Archbishop Bergoglio, as he then was, had much to do with the drafting of it, and let me say it is not a bad thing.

In particular, I admire the pastoral flavor of the document, which contrasts with the bureaucratic flavor of most recent episcopal pronouncements. The document proposed to renew evangelical labor, to an unambiguously Christian end. That is to say, it must be centered in our hunger for Christ, the Son of God, who has revealed the mercy of the Father, and the truth about our human condition.

The document proclaims a new period in history, “opening up, with challenges and demands, characterized by pervasive discontent which is spread by new social and political turbulence, by the expansion of a culture distant from or hostile to Christian tradition.” True enough.

              Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Our Lady of Aparecida in July

From statements like this we derive the “New Evangelization” and the “New Epoch” as the new slogans for our new age. I have already muttered against the first in this space, but would like to grunt a little more audibly against the second.

Truth be told, I am sick to the nostrils with new labels for new movements – especially those beginning with the word “New.” The Lord, we believe, makes all things new, but this writer agrees with the old Preacher, that as far as human affairs proceed, there is nothing new under the sun.

In particular, the conception of the Church under siege, from a world that does not want her message, is very old. We have been in that position from the beginning, and always need to evangelize within. Every generation requires conversion, no one is born Catholic. Moreover, the appeal of the apostate life, and the call of competing sects and religions, has always been there. The Prince of This World has been around for a while.

According to le Père Mersenne (1588-1648), there were 50,000 atheists in Paris in the year 1623. So far as I am able to tell, this “father of acoustics” pulled the number out of his ear. He quietly withdrew it from the second edition of his Quaestiones celeberrimae in Genesim, but too late: the number has marched down through the history books, as if the result of a Gallup poll.

According to another estimate, there were actually only five atheists in Paris in 1623, “three of whom are Italian.” But whatever their number, they were there. Nearly a century later, the Princess Palatine was heard to say that, “in all Paris, clerical or lay, there are not more than a hundred people who have the true faith and even believe in our Lord.”

I shall take that as another exaggeration, and hang my point upon it. We are never in a good position to know what is really going on, even in our immediate environs. And while I myself often utter desolate remarks, they must be taken with my occasional reservations. What amazes me is to find the Catholic faith so very much alive, and in the strangest quarters. Who, but God, can know if things are as bad (or good) as they appear?

We should listen for prophets, but not for analysts. It is a mistake, worse, it is a Hegelian mistake, to think we know the course of history. Worse yet, it is a subtle mistake.

To my mind, of course the world is trending badly. Yet it would follow that we need detachment from the trend. We should remind people they are not privileged by the age, for the Church requires the same in all ages. The notion that we have "advanced" into a special situation, even if that situation is exceptionally bad, plays directly into the vanity of the anti-Christian, “progressive” mindset.

The New Epoch could easily become a slogan to replace, The spirit of Vatican II. And we know how the devil played that. By now, we even know what he is going to say: “Because this is a New Epoch, we are empowered to overturn all traditions. After all, they were only valid for the Old Epoch."

Enough of him already. Surely we have had enough “New.” Let us instead methodically rebuild whatever has been wrecked, starting with the Mass and the family.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at:
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (7)Add Comment
written by Carlos Caso-Rosedni, September 22, 2013
David, I keep thinking of Aparecida as a sort of puzzle. I hesitate to comment sometimes because it still remains a puzzle to me.

The story of Our Lady of Aparecida may reveal something in a mystical way: fishermen "expecting the arrival of a bishop" went to the river and cast their nets. The nets were stuck and eventually they pulled from the bottom that image we now know as Our Lady of Aparecida. The image's head was missing. The fishermen then cast their nets a little farther and they caught the missing head. Miracle!

Benedict XVI corrected the Declaration of Aparecida because of some ambiguities. The original seemed to refer obliquely to a "quality of life" Gospel of sorts. Benedict transformed the document by the now-famous addition of the words "in Him" at the end of the document, which shifted the focus from merely a material outlook on life (life in this world) to a spiritual one (life in Christ).

God works in mysterious ways. The message was missing the Head but Benedict somehow found it by adding the words "in Him". A mysterious reference —in my humble opinion— to Ephesians 5:23 and Colossians 1:18 linking the whole thing to the miracle of the fishermen that were "waiting for a bishop that was on his way to visit the village". Is that a scatological sign pointing to the imminent arrival of the Lord? (John 21:1-14, Matthew 24:46)

The original document draws a lot from liberation theology, which seems to lead the Church into the envy-driven world of class warfare. I am still thinking about it and asking St. James to intercede before the Holy Spirit so I can eventually make sense of it. St. James in his epistle (see James 1:27) thundered on those "social justice" issues. He's our expert in that matter.
written by Chris in Maryland, September 22, 2013
Mr. Warren:

Wow - thank you - I needed a dose of sanity - after enduring the agonies in the wake of "The [BIG] Interview."

Yes - let us rebuild what has been wrecked, starting with The Mass and the family.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, September 22, 2013
As the Holy Father said in his interview in America Magazine, “After all, in every age of history, humans try to understand and express themselves better. So human beings in time change the way they perceive themselves. It’s one thing for a man who expresses himself by carving the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace,’ yet another for Caravaggio, Chagall and yet another still for Dalí. Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning...”

As he also says, “God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.”

That, I believe, is what Bl John Henry Newman meant, when he said in his Development of Doctrine that “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often."
written by Mack Hall, September 22, 2013
Well and truly said. I'm almost inspired to write a manifesto, but 1968 and Global Cooling are over.

Again, thanks.
written by Sue, September 22, 2013
"Let us instead methodically rebuild whatever has been wrecked, starting with the Mass and the family." The family is the answer to Francis' concerns about poverty as well. The chief creator of poverty has been single motherhood (via extramarital sex or divorce).

But I would also ask about the poverty of spirit present in those comfortably ensconced in government benefits/entitlements at the price of their soul (I would include here even the Congressmen-sellouts to Obama). That is an economical frontier on which the Church should be fighting, and it should be fighting with weapons of mass charity - it should be mobilizing its own members to give in the name of the Church and of Jesus. And to that end, it should have worthy organizations (hint: not CRS or CCHD with their gov-money tainted practices) to collect and distribute that money or that volunteer time.

Whatever happened to the virtuous Church of the Middle Ages who CREATED hospitals? Why can't the Church create its own health system that would be free of abortion, euthanasia, ivf? Why can the Amish be exempt from Obamacare because they have a system for caring for each other, but the Church has to be hitched at the hip to the government?

The Civil war nuns of the battlefield were an example of the earlier ethos - they gave profligately of themselves but would never have sacrificed their principles (on abortion, homosexuality, contraception) like the LCWR nuns have.

It is time, as either Chesterton or Lewis said, to go forward by going back.
written by Stanley Anderson, September 22, 2013
David Warren wrote, “Truth be told, I am sick to the nostrils with new labels for new movements – especially those beginning with the word ‘New’.”

Might we think of all those tiresome labels of “New whatever” as being, ironically, akin to “old wineskins” that are prone to breaking?
written by Walter, September 22, 2013
I guess we see what we want to see. I attend Mass every week (always Novus Ordo, never been to a TLM). Always with my family. Jesus shows up every time. Neither needs fixing, Mr. Warren, thank you very much.

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