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By David Warren   
Saturday, 05 October 2013

Let us today, in honor of Saint Placid, calmly consider an outlandish possibility. Lest gentle reader be alarmed, I want first to assure him (or her!) that I do not doubt the world may be coming to an end. It would be un-Catholic to reject this constant possibility. But if only for the sake of argument, let me put it to you: What if the end doesn't come soon? What if, rash as this may sound, many living at this hour are fated to die in their beds of old age?

As I say, we must consider this calmly. I know that I have a reputation for paradoxical and counter-intuitive argument, and should admit to a record of failed predictions. And so I advance my proposal modestly.

Moreover, I should concede that my thesis seems confuted by a glance at Drudge, or at any of a thousand other news-aggregating websites, including the tattered electronic remains of once-formidable mainstream media. It would indeed seem, on the face of things, that the mad have inherited the earth, and that we are all going to die, shortly.

I was just glancing at these headlines, and in considering this world's banquet, could hardly restrain myself from uttering the words of that cynical old philosopher, Apemantus. “Hoy-day!” he declared. “What a sweep of vanity comes this way!”  

Like madness is the glory of this life,
And this pomp shows to a little oil and root.
We make ourselves fools to disport ourselves,
And spend our flatteries to drink those men
Upon whose age we void it up again,
With poisonous spite and envy.

It may be recalled, from Shakespeare's play, that Apemantus takes not one but two good shots at Timon of Athens. The first is when Timon is rich and famous and celebrated throughout the city. Apemantus charmlessly suggests that all Timon's friends are attracted by his money. Later, when Timon has lost all his money, and therefore his friends, Apemantus finds him holed up in a cave. Timon himself is now howling at the vanity of this world, and so Apemantus has come to accuse him of plagiarism.

“Democracy” – a word I like to put in quotes – has focused all of our attention on politics. Even the madwoman who tries to crash the White House gates, then leads a procession of squad cars down Pennsylvania Avenue with bullets flying, becomes a political player, woven consequentially into the current political narrative by the scriveners. This is mainstream crazy.

Ditto the mad who shoot up schools and navy yards and shopping malls, endlessly re-launching some debate on gun control, when really the point is psycho-pharmacology.

The last pope, my beloved Benedict, in his final formal words to the priests of Rome, made an observation that I found characteristically astute. With calm sanity, his mind still dwelling upon the disasters that befell the Church after Vatican II, he distinguished “the Council of the Fathers, the real Council,” from the “Council of the media.”

And he addressed this with characteristic tact. As a man who had been present within it, he testified that “the Council of the Fathers. . . moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum.” And this, from what I have been able to learn, is true in the main.

But, “the Council of the journalists, naturally, was not conducted within the faith, but within the categories of today's media, namely apart from faith, with a different hermeneutic. It was a political hermeneutic: for the media, the Council was a political struggle, a power struggle between different trends in the Church.”

Let me add, tactlessly, that these two contrasting forces, though oil and water, will mix when violently stirred, and that we do live in times that are violently stirring. Hence, perhaps, the common belief that something peculiarly apocalyptic defines our times, when what we have to make us special is rather the 24/7 blare of that media “hermeneutic of power.”

Had we world enough and time, I would be tempted to list innumerable previous moments in history when the argument for impending universal doom could have been made as plausibly, or rather more plausibly, than it is today. We need only look back a century – over events since 1913 – to appreciate this. But “signs of the times” have been available to every sentient witness through the last two millennia. The more of history one reads, the more apparent this becomes.

That “hermeneutic of power” is itself not new. Find me a generation in which the rulers of these earthly realms were not cynically manipulating people and institutions to their own ungodly ends, and I will find a historian to correct you.

Yet one may easily retrieve, generally from within living adult memory, a time when the world was quieter; and know that times before that were quieter still. It is not so much events, as the noise of them, that has chiseled so deeply into the skulls of those not living at remote wilderness locations – where, even today, the music of the spheres may be heard in silence.

To the media mindset (hardly confined to journalists), a struggle was underway, in which the power of the hierarchy was contending with “the power of the people.” And as Benedict noted, in his dry Bavarian way, the media were not indifferent in this struggle they were struggling to concoct.

Nor was the subsequent liturgical trend within the Church – consistently from the sacred towards the profane, I think – unaccompanied by the sophistry we rightly associate with struggles for power.

Our very notion of “apocalypse” has been politicized, in the reverberation of all the noise. It is being de-sacralized, and if you will, profaned. God bless this “pope emeritus” who understood that worldly panic is not required; that rhetorical posturing, or playing to the gallery, can lead us only astray; that to feed the truly hungry we must reify the sacred.

 
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: http://davidwarrenonline.com/
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (21)Add Comment
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written by Avery Tödesulh, October 05, 2013
Well said, as usual. The generation of John Paul II and Benedict XVI was a generation that saw immense suffering in Europe, perhaps greater than any before in the history of mankind. They had an insight born of this experience, an insight that God's work through the Roman Catholic Church is the decisive historical force. Their spiritually formative years, the 1930s ad 40s, were years of dedication to the Roman Catholic Church in the face of the greatest human evils the world has known. Cosequently they showed themselves to be Giants of the Roman Catholic Faith.

Francis formative years, the 1960s and 70s, were spent in relative security, with little personal danger. His interviews remind me of many prelates of the 70s (remember Bishop Gumbleton? Archbshop Quinn?). Expect all the loopiness of the 70s and early 80s Church (experimental liturgies, gay masses, third-way religious) to come oozing back out of the woodwork.

Apocalypse now ...
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written by James Swetnam, S.J., October 05, 2013
From one who lived in Rome 1960-2010, Amen, Mr. Warren, Amen.
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written by Carlos Caso-Rosendi, October 05, 2013
We are re-experiencing that problem today. Comments by the current Pope are mistranslated and "interpreted" out of context. I believed we will have more and more confusion as a result of Pope Francis folksy, casual way of expressing himself. That is a problem one must admit. At the same time, I do not think this Pope is about to bring about the "spirit" of Vatican II and all that foolishness. He is not going to deny the Lord like a Pope once did. I believe he's going to put us to work hard on living the Gospel for that is what Catholics and the world need now. I miss Benedict's precision and clarity. I miss his humble erudition and quiet ways. Benedict is like Mozart, Francis is more like Gershwin.
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written by Lawrence Hall, October 05, 2013
Thank you, Mr. Warren. And thank you to THE CATHOLIC THING for publishing consistently thoughtful and genuinely Catholic think-pieces. So many purportedly Catholic weblogs are often more predicated in contemporary political fashions than in transcendent reality.
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written by Chris in Maryland, October 05, 2013
Avery:

I join you in your esteem for JP2 and B16.

Of the same heart, and repulsed as you are by the counterfeiting that emerged in the 40 years since the 60's, I believe we should be cautious about the current critiques of Pope Francis, which seem to be carried out through the "profane" lens of which David Warren speaks. On a cautionary note, Fr. Fessio, student of B16 and founder of Ignatius Press, has affirmed that Pope Francis is of one heart and mind with B16. And Fr. Z is of the same mind. And so are many Bishops who have already shown the courage of their Catholic convictions - e.g., Archbishop Chaput, and Cardinal George.

We should tread carefully here, lest we discover that we ourselves have become pawns in the "profanity" that rends us from within, while it's twin bashes us from without. Time will tell. Remember, much of what we hear of Pope Francis is being "filtered" through Church lenses that are also profaned, such as "America" magazine, the NX Reporter, "Catholics" in the "go-along-media," and not unlikely, Fr. Spadaro's journal.

The homilies of Pope Francis are powerful proclamations of the fight between Good and Evil.

In Christus Veritas
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written by William Manley, October 05, 2013
I disagree completely. The labor pains are all around us. The end times are near. The world has largely turned its back on God and followed false leaders. In 1913, churches still constituted a force in shaping personal morality. That is no longer true. The concept of situational ethics, which first arose in the 1960s, has now become the societal norm. The seas are rising. We are in pre-apocalyptic times. Buckle your seat belt.
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written by schm0e, October 05, 2013

"The 24/7 blare of that media 'hermeneutic of power'" IS the very thing that hastens the Apocalypse, by "violently shaking" mankind with lies and images of madness (read: "a great deception") -- instantaneously writ global -- which, when occasionally fueled by such things as "psycho-pharmacology" administered bureaucratically to the masses results, necessarily in the rise of totalitarian state, "leviathan" of old, which for the first time can by information technology monitor and therefore govern every measurable feature of the individual's actions and can at will -- for it is only "a software problem" -- require the use of his prescribed identifier in order to get your goodies. The state can finally, on a universal basis, do this:. “…and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.”


Can it take a thousand more years to actuate? Who knows? But what we do know is this: circumstances that a thousand years ago might have taken a thousand years to bring about can in our era be realized in a day.

This time is like no other, and arguing that it is must make St. Peter chuckle: "Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.'"

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written by Rich in MN, October 05, 2013
I think what so exacerbates the cacophonous voices (and the consequent evils) of each succeeding generation are improvements in technology. Both our pens and our swords have become so much larger. Technology is more than a megaphone; it is really more like a fertilizer. One can use this fertilizer on Kentucky bluegrass (e.g. TCT) or on thistles (e.g. MSM) and "creeping charlie" (e.g. NC Reporter).

I don't really have the time or reading speed to be particularly well read on various topics; consequently, I tend to reference the same things repeatedly -- mea culpa. I am sure I have mentioned before the fascinating study from 1947 by Harvard professor Carle Zimmerman called "Family and Civilization" in which Zimmerman exposes the historical parallels between the health of the family and the health of the civilization. Near the end of the book, there was almost a pleading sound to Zimmerman's words because he recognized the manifestations of decay (which he might call "advanced Atomism") in our Western civilization. And I doubt it was any coincidence that Zimmerman also made reference to our shiny new sword that was on display just a few years earlier at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I pray that William Manley is wrong in his assessment but I think we all must be in agreement that the stack of chips on the roulette table is getting pretty darn high....
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written by Rich in MN, October 05, 2013
Sorry Schm0e, I did not see your post before I posted.

I agree with Schm0e.
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written by Dan, October 05, 2013
If it walks like a duck, and quacks like duck, it is likely a duck. Pope Francis is Cardinal Mahoney style liberal. His pontificate will strengthen the forces of the profane, and the Church suffer as a result.
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written by rewinn, October 05, 2013
Has any of us ever lived in a time where there were not signs of the End of Days?
I suspect that the End Of The World has been impending since someone first invented the calendar, and it will worry those who love to be worried so long as calendars exist.
Meanwhile, let's be about our business, as God Wills.
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written by DeGaulle, October 05, 2013
I read a book called 'Catholic Prophecy' by Yves Dupont some months ago. It seems another war in Europe is forecast. Dupont, writing about 1970, quite reasonably assumed it would be a war between East and West. But the actual prophecies clearly indicate the fault-line as being between Southern Europe and Northern Europe, not unlike what exists in the EU today, with the North, such as Germany and the Scandinavians enforcing austerity on the South, being Italy, Greece and Spain, in particular. But, the interesting thing is that France could well end up in the latter category, and the prophecies say that France will go to war against Germany. I don't know what will happen, but one thing is certain-these prophets, and many are from over a millenium ago, knew the status of current European politics better than an intelligent and well-educated European in 1970.
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written by schm0e, October 05, 2013
Rich in MN, I certainly found your comment useful. Those interested in the effects of information technology might want to check out Marshall McLuhan's thesis on "Understanding Media" re: the inevitable erosion of national sovereignty, representative government, and individualism in favor of tribalism brought about by media technology.
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written by Matt, October 05, 2013
All one needs to do to understand the times is to read PASCENDI DOMINICI GREGIS.
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written by Ted Seeber, October 05, 2013
Avery: all you say is true save one thing: Agentina in the 1970s was as dangerous as Germany or Poland in the 1930s and 1940s. The only difference was that Pinochet was less racist, and more random
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written by schm0e, October 05, 2013
If you consider the idea of "propogating" the faith, or of "propaganda" (good or otherwise), Rich in MN's analogy of "fertilizer" is very apt.

Also must add that I appreciate the author's reminder about the need to focus on the "Council of the Fathers" and not the "Council of the Media".
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written by Avery Tödesulh, October 06, 2013
@Ted: Um, Ted, ... Pinochet was a Chilean general, ..., this is your Emily Litella moment.

Only someone ignorant of the history of both World War II and Argentina would compare Argentina in the 60s and 70s to Nazi Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the 1930s and 40s. Or someone who is a socialist ideologue ...

@C in M: I make no claim to know the heart of Pope Francis as Fr. Fessio does, but I do know that his forays into interview-land have shown much ineptitude. It's not about the Pope's orthodoxy, it's about his competency in publicly presenting the Roman Catholic Church's teaching. I don't think he is a heretic (not in the slightest), but I do think he's a bumbler. And there's plenty of evidence for that.
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written by Chris in Maryland, October 06, 2013
Avery:

Thank you for your reply. I do agree that some Pope Francis' public statements (interviews, etc) are not marked by clarity, and sometimes seem to misfire. Fr. Schall has just written an article posted at Catholic World Report that addresses this, even in the subtitle.

One guess I have is that this may be a dysfunction of "current" Catholic institutions, among such the Jesuits, i.e., in the attempt to engage the secular world, they are often entering the engagement via the secular critique of the Church (which has little or no ground for meaningful communication), and tacitly or explicitly accepting that the basis for engagement is grounded in critiquing The Church.

On the other hand, Pope Francis' recent dialogue with the ex-Catholic atheist (Scalfani?) did show, as was well documented a few days ago here at TCT, Mr. S has an incoherent and bumbling grasp about the ground of reality. One question is, how many people would read the incoherent utterance of S, and think it "intelligent?" As in one current mind-set favored in progressive/Jesuit circles - full of "passionate uncertainty."
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written by schm0e, October 06, 2013
Not quite sure Pope Francis is surprised that his style of communication -- simple, direct -- provides red meat for Modernists (ht: Matt).

One doesn't "bumble" into the Papacy and for my money he seems to have above-average street smarts.

Perhaps he sees the weapons of his warfare as being from a different realm and has chosen to eschew being a "stratgic communicator." Or, perhaps Dan is right...

I await the moment when the "Council of the Media" realizes that he's not saying what they want him to, after all.

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written by schm0e, October 06, 2013
@ Avery Tödesulh -- why, because Peron was such a gentleman?
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written by Louise, October 06, 2013
David, your article sent me to the Catechism to review the teaching on "Thy Kingdom Come" and subsequent to that the teaching on the new heaven and the new earth. Perhaps it is my own moral blind spot but it seems we never contemplate how radical that petition really is and thus fail to heed its full implications in our prayers.

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