On the Christian Mission

A passage that has haunted me, one related to readings at the end of the liturgical year, is found in Herbert Deane’s book on Augustine. It reads: “As history draws to a close, the number of true Christians in the world will decline rather than increase. His (Augustine’s) words give no support to the hope that the world will gradually be brought to believe in Christ and that earthly society can be transformed, step by step, into the kingdom of God on earth.” Without too much exaggeration, the modern world is built on the supposition that Augustine was wrong. Man’s “mission” is to bring about the kingdom of God, on earth, by ourselves. This “mission” is the rationale of modernity.

Everywhere we look in Europe and America, Christians are abandoning their faith. Philip Jenkins tells us that Christianity is the fastest growing religion in some parts of the world. We hear reports of Christian house communities in China. But we also see the remnants of Middle Eastern Christianity being literally wiped out, not just the people, but their buildings, books, and homes. Much is done here in the West to prevent calling it a persecution of (specifically) Christians by self-identified Muslims.

Yet we read in Revelation 13: “Since you alone are holy, all nations will come and worship in your presence.” Quite obviously such a gathering of nations will not happen in this world. Indeed, novels like those by Robert Hugh Benson and Michael O’Brien presuppose that, in the end, all nations will gather against Christ, that only a tiny remnant, if that, will remain. Justice will not come about within time.

Josef Pieper put the matter this way in Tradition as Challenge: “The end of our finite history will not be simply identical with the ‘victory’ of reason, or of the good, or justice, or even of Christianity and the Church; the last epoch directly preceding the transformation of the temporal order as a whole will, on the contrary – to put it briefly – be characterized by some sort of pseudo-order embracing the whole planet and sustained by the rule of force.”

Originally, I assumed this final “rule of force” would control our free actions. But looking at our universities and media, the first order of control will rather be over language, over enforcing rules against “hate speech.” It will forbid by law and force any expression, hence any chance of coordination, counter-action, any expression of normal humanity or of specific Christian purposes. It is what Aristotle meant by a tyrant’s controlling friendships.

Saint Augustine in His Study by Sandro Botticelli, 1494 [Uffizi Gallery, Florence]

Men or women brought up adopted by single-sex parents will be forbidden to say that their experience was harmful. Christians will not be allowed to state what the Scripture says about sins or disorders of soul lest those practicing them be “offended.” To depict divorce or abortion as evil will be seen as a violation of “rights.” Race or class, not reason, will govern. Anyone who “feels” bad, no matter what they do to cause problems, will be able to silence any criticism of their action. The notion that we should “correct” our brother is an assumption of superiority and a violation of equality.

“People dispute the idea that they have a nature given by their bodily identity that serves as a defining element of the human being,” Robert Cardinal Sarah has written in God or Nothing:

They deny their nature and decide that it is not something that is previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. Thus duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as being ordained by God. The very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed.

In that perspective, reality does not determine truth. Will decides. The unraveling of society begins when nature is not seen to contain an intelligence that indicates to us what we are.

So I do not think that we can build a kingdom of God in this world. Nor do I think the distinctions of man and woman, or good and evil, are arbitrary, made by our own wills. Why then do I entitle these reflections “On the Christian Mission”? Many Christians, even at the highest levels, have implicitly accepted the “modern project.”

But Augustine and Pieper were right about the end times. Only the bravest, at the cost of their lives and status, will be able to speak what reality entails. The world is not going to be “converted.” What is going to happen is what is happening. The content of the Christian mission is to be found in those words that are not allowed to be spoken freely and publicly among men, words about what it is to be human, about what is right, about what is wrong.

James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J.

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

  • On Words - Tuesday, September 25, 2018
  • Tom Williams

    The Brave New World has blossomed in full colour on planet earth. The True Church founded by Jesus Christ has become much smaller. The true kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven is and always will be His Presence in The Holy Sacrifice of The Mass. For those who believe this and do his Will in their lives that Kingdom on earth is real.

  • zag4christ

    I would like to thank Fr. Schall for his great witness to the Truth. I have always been attracted to the Society of Jesus. I was fortunate to be formed in the faith by the Daughters of Charity and the Baltimore catechism. As a young man, I contemplated the priesthood because of that. I was attracted to the Jesuits because of their calling to education and the use of the intellect in conjunction with the call to follow Christ and allegiance to the directions of the Holy Father’s and to the faith. I ended up with a vocation to the married life, which I continue today. I grew up in rural Wyoming where a highway historical marker caught my interest at a very young age. It took years to fully realize the meaning behind it. It was a commemoration of the first Mass said in Wyoming, by Fr. Pierre Jean De Smet, I think it was in the fall of 1841. As I have traveled through life, I have been blessed to meet some amazing Jesuits. Fr. John Lynch, a retired Jesuit from New York, who came to Wyoming to fill in for the parish priest and stayed 11 years. He buried my mother and it was the most beautiful Mass I have ever participated in. Fr. Robert Spitzer, whom I have had the privilege to hear preach and teach in person three times, and I walked away filled with the knowledge of the Peace and Grace of Jesus Christ. Fr. Mitch Pacwa, who keeps on keeping on, preaching the Truth.
    May God continue to bless and keep you Fr. Schall.
    Thank you for vocation and your ministry. May God bring us others like you.

    • Chris in Maryland


  • DeaconEdPeitler

    The scenario described is one that will end with its own self-destruction. It has the appearance of power but inside, it is a rotting cancer.

    What is of concern to us Catholics is the answer to Christ’s question, “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?” That’s where we respond.

    • RainingAgain

      I tend to agree. The secularists will finally attack one another more bitterly than anyone else, if the Islamists haven’t already destroyed them. Civilisation cannot last for long under the rule of insanity, which is reason divorced from reality. The culmination will likely be one of utter chaos. Hopefully, we can keep the flame alive until it can spread again.

  • Xabi Kiano

    Bit frightening, Schall, first thing in the morning! Suppose the challenge is for parents — how does one raise children in this reality? Seems to me imperative young people see nature, the natural world, as authored by a creative intelligence.

    Wondering whether a “neo-platonic”, so to speak street-Thomism will equip young persons win the eyes to see what western secularity seeks to obfuscate & eradicate. Contemporary nature worship (I.e. Environmental movements) appears to be rooted in the proper human impulse to encounter the divine vis-a-vis the natural world.

  • Michael Dowd

    Fr. Schall speaks the truth. Truth is the enemy of evil so it must be suppressed. To grow, evil requires silence, e.g., political correctness. The way things are going God doesn’t have to rain down ruin on our civilization; we are doing it ourselves. The seeds of our own destruction are planted and growing. It is just a matter of time before it all comes apart permanently. We should welcome some sign from God–even a harsh one– that will bring us back to our senses. That would be the most merciful thing He could do. But we probably wouldn’t get it, would we?
    “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ Luke 16:29

  • Manfred

    We have a little bit to go before the end-times, Fr. Schall. We have the time of peace which the Lady of Fatima promised when her immacualte heart will prevail. We will see the time of the Anti-/Christ, the convesion of the Jews, etc. before the end times which you describe very well.
    It is our lot to arise each day, pull our pants on one leg at a time, say our morning prayefs, and go ouit into a secular world. Barring an accident caused by a Swiss Guard cleaning his crossbow, this pope will be with us for a while.
    Remenber the words of St. Teresa of Avila:
    “Let nothing disturb thee, let nothing affright thee. All things are passing, God never changes.Patient endurance attainetth all things.Whom God possesses, in nothing is wanting.
    God alone suffices.”

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      “I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to the earth, I knew not where” (Longfellow). Wishful thinking Manfred?

      • Scott Pauline

        The idea of an intermediate godless age that radically reverts to the Gospel after a near apocalyptic chastisement actually ends up perfectly fulfilling OT history.

        The Jews had three primary darknesses in their history:

        The Intermediate Pre-Exile Apostasy
        The Maccabees and OT Antichrist Antiochus

        The Church would seem to have this as well, if Fatima is correct:

        Pagan Rome
        Our Modern Minor Apostasy
        The Great Apostasy and NT Antichrist

        More specifically, the Jews were progressively resistant to the prophets development of the Law after the Exodus, and became supremely unfaithful just before the Exile, were chastise, and radically repented in that time of distress, being then restored to their land and Temple.

        The parallel is predicted by most fully approved Private Revelation: as we have seen that especially since the Catholic Christendom of Middle Ages, the Gentiles have progressively resisted greatly the Church’s development (Protestantism, Enlightenment, and now modern Secular Godlessness), so now they are supremely unfaithful in most of the former Christendom, the private revelations speak of a conditional chastisement that will be like the end of the world, after which the Gentiles shall repent and come back to the Church: the reunion of Christians and a period of restoration. Only later will the entire world fall away with Antichrist and great apostasy, even as the Jews did not enter the final period of trial and THEIR Antichrist until after the long period of restoration.

        • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

          To further remark on your interesting well researched history of the faith the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 speaks of the Antichrist as the “son of perdition” and the “Rebel” who places himself above all that is holy and claims divinity seating himself in God’s sanctuary. The problem is which sanctuary. At the time it was the Jerusalem Temple, now it is possibly St Peter’s Basilica unless the Israelis rebuild the Temple. My belief has been that the Jews will rebuild the Jerusalem Temple and that is where the Antichrist will appear. At present there is an apostasy though perhaps not the Great Apostasy foretold to precede the Antichrist by the Apostle. We do have for the first time in Church history insofar as I am aware of what is heresy issuing from the Church among certain prelates and what appears heresy if only by the suggestion of our Holy Father. This is my deep concern. Again my hope is you are correct and this is a passing trial for us all.

          • Howard Kainz

            In the 4th century the Emperor Julian the Apostate tried to rebuild the Temple, and this was followed by earthquakes, fires, etc. eventually causing Jews and the Emperor’s agents to give up the project. Jesus said stone would not remain upon stone.

          • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

            Interesting Howard. If that holds true then the only sanctuary in reference to Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 is in Rome. Although I respect your view I hope you are wrong.

  • Beth

    Thank you, Fr. Schall. Though as homeschoolers we are accused of ‘circling the wagons’, we have this very deep need to show our children Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. We’ll continue to take the flak. There is no other way.

  • Tanyi Tanyi

    “The content of the Christian mission is to be found in those words that are not allowed to be spoken freely and publicly among men, words about what it is to be human, about what is right, about what is wrong.” Wao! Thank you Fr. You have said it all. If only Francis could wake up to the reality that by watering down Catholicism and castigating faithful Catholics he is only empowering the enemies of the Church, that will be helpful. We pray for these hard times for the Church.

  • George Sim Johnston

    In 1922, that enlightened pagan George Santayana addressed those liberal idealists who thought the Great War (as it was called then) was a mere hiccup in history’s progress toward the universal rule of reason:

    “Let me whisper this counsel in your ears. Reserve a part of your wrath. You have not seen the worst yet. You suppose that this war has been a criminal blunder and an exceptional horror; you imagine that before long reason will prevail, and all these inferior people that govern the world will be swept aside, and your own party will reform everything and remain always in power. You are mistaken. This war has given you your first glimpse of the ancient, fundamental, normal state of the world, your first taste of reality. It should teach you to dismiss all your philosophies of progress or of a governing reason as the babble of dreamers who walk through one world mentally beholding another … But if you are ever driven again into the open, if the course of events should be so rapid, that you could catch the drift of it in your short life (since you despise tradition) then you must prepare for a ruder shock … Peace itself means discipline at home and invulnerability abroad–two forms of permanent virtual war … This war has been a short one, and its ravages slight in comparison with what remains standing: a severe war is one in which the entire manhood of a nation is destroyed, its cities razed, and its women and children driven into slavery … A ancient city would have thought this war, or one relatively as costly, only a normal incident; and certainly the Germans will not regard it otherwise.”

    Somebody should slip this into Susan Rice’s in-box.

    • John II

      She wouldn’t know or care to know what he was talking about. She belongs to the nihilist strain of the “postmodern” (post-1945) era. And she doesn’t know that either.

  • No doubt some will say I oversimplify that the Christian mission is salvation or Christ since it is his mission. As Christians we remain “witness[es] to the truth”, John 18,37.

  • Andrew

    Jesus died and rose, and said, “Preach the gospel creatures, and I will be with you always, even to the end of age.”

    He did not say, ‘preach and the world will be converted’.
    So, let us preach, and let him be wiith us.

  • Tamsin

    But this morning the Google Doodle teaches me that we ascend from lower animals, becoming ever higher animals. We don’t need Mary; we’ve got Lucy!

  • Scott Pauline

    Thank you for a great article, Father. Might I add, II think the modern lies of suppressing the truth can be seen in the false prophet of apocalypse idealistically.

    Toward that end, we can recall the two great reasons we exist:

    We are made to know and love God in THIS life, and to marry Him forever in the NEXT.

    The lies of the fall, and therefore of antichrist, would be the antithesis:

    Forget about seeking to know and love God. BELIEVE what you want, and DO what you want, and you will be better off. Either there IS no absolute truth to KNOW of God, or NONE of what God revealed is true, even Reason. WE determine what is right and wrong.

    And the second lie would be: you will not find your ultimate happiness in a profound eternal marriage to your CreaTOR In the NEXT life. Rather, find your ultimate fulfillment in THIS world with the CreaTION, or materialism: brute accomplishments, pleasures, and possessions.

    It is worth noting that knowing God and loving God are faith or repentance, or the Baptismal Disposition. And we already have referenced the apocalyptic marriage.

    Hence, the lies of the fall seem to be twisting the ultimate signs of Baptism and Heretics, the only sacraments left to heretics. (five loaves, two fish?)

    Now, if we see the seven horns of the Lamb in Apocalypse 4-5 as the seven sacraments of the power of grace instituted by Christ, then the two horns of the false prophet in Apocalypse 13 could be the twisting or mockery of some two sacraments. The two sacraments of heretics are a perfect fit above: the twisting of the ultimate signs of Baptism and Marriage above form the ultimate heresy, the lies of the Fall.

    1. Anti-Baptismal Disposition: Decide for YOURSELF what is true of God, or what is true at all, and DO as YOU please. And there will be no consequences.

    2. Live not for the NEXT world of profound MARRIAGE to your CreaTOR, but live for THIS world, the creaTION, and its superficial goods: MATERIALISM.

    This is the world we live in, as you point out, Father.

  • agape

    I hear you, Father Schall, and I thank you for your reflections. Christ promised to return, He promised He would be with us till “the end of times”. When this will come we certainly do not know. But for sure at our own end each of us will have to give an account to Him on how we witnessed to our Christian faith, on how we kept his commandments. Conversion is a path, and although evidence may be contrary we must believe that notwithstanding all the sins and moral decay of this world, there is the germ of holiness and salvation that will germinate and blossom. How this will come about and when it is not for us to cogitate.May we stand with Jesus Christ through thick and thin, may we live and die in Peace with the Lord and with others. The victory of the Cross is ours.

  • Poor Sinner

    Thank you for your wise assessment, as always Father Schall! Christ comes not to condemn the world, but to save it; thus, He comes to testify to the Truth.

  • augury

    So, the point is that Christians shouldn’t pin their eschatological hopes on the “modern project?” I guess that would be an eye-opener to a Joe Biden or a Nancy Pelosi, or to the doyens at “Catholic” Universities who legitimize the politicians’ “Catholicism.” Please remind me exactly which intellectuals in the rarified air of Georgetown and Notre Dame, which household name “Catholic” politicans, actually read this blog. Instead of such genteel preaching to the converted, Father, perhaps you could spare a few less polite words for the “Catholics” who are throwing the Church’s teachings under the bus in favor of the “modern project.”

  • Rene

    Building the Kingdom of God on earth is what the Modernists within the Church are trying to do. The emphasis is on eliminating poverty and taking care of the environment, the salvation of souls being less important.

  • Craig Payne

    Not to be contrarian, but as a Christian, I find this article completely demoralizing. I believe in the salvific return of Christ. In the meantime, however, should not the yeast in the bread continue working until the bread is leavened through and through? Should not we believe for the leaf, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear?

    “The world is not going to be “converted,” ” says Fr. Schall.

    “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto Me,” says Jesus.

    The Church’s choice. What will you do?

    • We certainly should continue to share the Gospel. At the same time, we must accept the results and the lack thereof.

  • PCB

    In a recent online Princeton University Press (November 18, 2015) published interview of Jon D. Levenson, Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard University and author of the new book, LOVE OF GOD, conducted by Debra Liese, Prof. Levenson makes an interesting assertion to a question about “the idea of a romance between God and the people Israel”, which, while having a Jewish perspective, still, I think should give hope and consolation to those distressed by the implications of Fr. Schall’s current essay: He states in part: “(I)n our modern American world, if the wife gives her affections and her body to other men, a common solution lies in divorce: the two parties just go their separate ways, hoping to end up with partners more to their liking. But that is exactly what doesn’t happen in the marital metaphor as the biblical prophets develop it! Here again, the element of unconditionality is crucial. God doesn’t walk away from the relationship, even if Israel has done so. He doesn’t replace her or even take a second wife (remember, ancient Israel had no legal or moral problem with polygamy). He punishes her, even harshly, but this turns out to be a preparation for a restoration of the marriage. The punishment is a consequence of his passionate love for her and faithfulness to her. Ultimately, it evinces a renewal of her love for him, in turn.” – As Catholic Christians, Our Lord has been characterized as our Bridegroom – and us (the Church), His bride – he will remain faithful, unconditionally, even as the faithful grow few in number and times become harrowing, He prepares for the restoration.

  • mohawkkateri

    I would hazad a guess that this relates to a necessity, in the mind of our Lord, that a Church be founded and that we engage in worship on a sabbath together regularly and that we conform to traditions instituted throughout changing times — everything we hear of His words in the Gospel as well as the actions of the first disciples point to the acknowledgement that the power of the world and its rulers, the attraction to these, the real strength they wield, is nearly irresistible for the average believer to remain faithful, and that persevering is far from deemed assured even with the reality of great, immeasurable, always offered fathomless Mercy of God.

  • Robert A Rowland

    What can we expect when three fourths of those who say they are Catholic are apostate because they no longer believe Jesus is really present on the altar? Before VCII, you could easily see by the spiritual attitude that everyone at the Tridentine rite Mass believed Jesus was there

  • Cheryl Jefferies

    Nailed it, Father. I began to come to similar conclusions some time ago. Sad, but, quite true. Those who have listened and will listen are now few. Those who will not listen are many. So be it. I’ve always been out-of-step with the rest of the world. My son used to say I was a dinosaur (in my thinking and my beliefs). So be it. It used to occasionally worry me. But, only occasionally. Now..I do not worry about it at all anymore. Jesus always spoke Truth…”My Kingdom is not of this world.” Amen.

  • Scott Pauline

    no, i don’t believe we are at that threshold. I believe we are in the time just before the great renewal. Did you not read what i wrote?

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      If you read closely what I said I agree with you that we are not at the final threshold. “I hope with you” means precisely that unless you possess absolute knowledge of the future through private prophecy. Fortunately I do not.

    • PCB

      Mr. Pauline, I think a closer reading of what Fr. Morello states, suggests he is hopeful in your assertions about this (current situation) only being a period of an intermediary(my word)/conditional chastisement vs. “the final threshold”.

    • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

      Also Scott it is dangerous for your faith to believe with certitude that you can predict the future. I say this for your good. Remember the words of Christ that no one knows when the end will come not the Son but only the Father.

  • Veritas

    In typical fashion, Father Schall gives me more to read and study. Thank God for condensed book reviews, but also thank God for this priest.

  • Dave Fladlien

    I agree. Everyone, even great Saints, who thought they had a sense of what was going to happen, have been very prone to be wrong. I don’t think any of us can guess what God is going to do, or how, but I think you are absolutely right: we must retain hope, and I would like to add, even a kind of limited hopeful optimism.

  • Dave Fladlien

    Obviously I can’t predict what will happen, or when, or how. But I am very concerned that we are, that is, the Christian community as a whole, developing a sense of pervasive pessimism. I don’t have any quarrel with those who, as Father Schall does here, warn that our very freedoms of religion and expression are in danger from those who would impose an anti-God totalitarianism on us, brought about by their totally perverse “legal reasoning” and their basically twisted sense of “human rights”. I am referring to those who contend that someone has a right to whatever “alternative lifestyle” they espouse, but that I don’t have a right to criticize or even disagree with it.

    To fail to see the danger those legal morons represent and work to prevent it would be stupid. But even as we work to prevent the fate they wish to impose on us, I think we must avoid falling into an “all is lost, all is doom” kind of mentality. That might be just as dangerous as the anti-God secularists.

  • Bill Brady

    The World is completely materialistic. The Church should be completely spiritual. To the degree that the Church has become materialistic is the degree to which the Christian message has been lost. The Church cannot solve the world’s problems by using worldly goods. These problems can only be solved by placing all our trust in God and turning our backs on mammon. We have not advanced much along these lines in 2000 years.

  • mohawkkateri

    It does not take a “bible literalist” or worse, a dread “fundamentalist”, whatever that has come to mean these days, to understand that if Jesus was not an insane person, surely his many many admonitions had some inner motivation on His part: distinguishing this world, its ruler, that power, from the narrow path, the gate, the way, the truth and the life, and the farther realities than the earthly disputes and wars. One needs neither be partial to an historical wise teaching Jesus nor the Jesus of miraculous healings to get the plain speech there and act accordingly.

  • Oscar Pierce

    As always, the columns in TCT are extremely thought provoking, this perhaps, more than some. In a recent column, the thought expressed was something like, “If Christianity hasn’t become the religion universal in two thousand years…it probably isn’t going to happen.” My response then, as now, “To a holy trinity, outside of time, what is the significance of two thousand years?”. As an individual, I’ve been taught that conversion (from sin) is a never-ending effort/goal. Is not the evangelization of mankind not the same. Further, In recent teachings, I’ve read that, [The end of days began at Pentecost].

    In as much as I/others have difficulty maintaining a state of Grace from day to day; wouldn’t it follow that the spread of Christianity wouldn’t have it’s up and down days?

    Speaking about time…who would profess to know God’s timetable? Do the prophetic and terrifying events forecast for the time before Christ’s return and the recreation of all, happen in an instant, in a wink of God’s eye, yours, mine? Imagine for a moment, a final, worldwide, universe wide battle with horrific weapons and incomprehensible destruction…just imagine then the, “Last Ones Standing,” when the dust settles, are Christians.

    • Chris in Maryland

      When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

      • Oscar Pierce

        Well, if I’m alive and you’re alive there will be at least two of us!

  • Human beings are very resilient, we adapt to changes, some quicker than others mind you and we come to our senses eventually. Who’s to say that with all of the evil being spread in our world by ISIS that humanity will eventually have had enough and respond in a positive way to put an end to their destruction.
    Like Howard Kainz stated earlier in this section there is great hope in our college students who are attending Masses on campus throughout the land. Most of the tenants in my building are students working on their MAs and PHDs and I am very encouraged by what I hear from them and the values that they hold dear.
    Another good sign in this world is when we are faced with tragedy like we witnessed in Paris and people’s first response is to turn to prayer.
    We can be strong and hopeful by praying, attending Mass and looking to scripture for God’s direction.

  • TPD

    I went to the Gesu college Sunday afternoon Mass last week. Homily okay. Music great. Good thing the coin has two sides to it.