It’s Lent, so let’s spend a little time away from politics. The Holy Fire, first published in 1957, when Eastern Orthodoxy had zero presence in the religious consciousness of most of America, is a beautifully-written popular history of ten towering eastern Fathers of the Church. Popular history in 1957 is not comparable to popular history in 2023, however, so this book reads like what might be an advanced college text today, if colleges studied anything worthwhile. Regardless, Payne’s book is an outstanding introduction to Orthodoxy in historical context, which is, no doubt, why St. Vladimir’s Press republished it.
[Having waited a decent interval after Pope Benedict’s death, this article is timely again. It was originally published on March 30, 2018.] Ross Douthat has a job that is, I would guess, either enviable or unpleasant, depending on the day—that of being the only regular conservative contributor to the New York Times. A frequent focus of Douthat’s is that most counter-cultural of doctrines, orthodox Roman Catholicism. If you want to suffer, you need only visit the comments section in the Times for any Douthat column, especially one on Catholicism. Exposing yourself to the firehose of bile and stupidity there will show you what Purgatory will be like, although perhaps Purgatory will be an improvement. Undaunted, Douthat now offers a full-length book on the changes being brought about by Pope Francis.
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be rich. I was not wealthy growing up, nor was anybody I knew. Today, however, as I state perhaps too often, I am rich. I bathe twice daily in French champagne and always cover my burgers in gold leaf. The problem is, as most everybody knows, that being rich sits very uneasily with Christian faith. At a minimum, being rich is a grave danger for a man’s soul. To gain insight into this problem, or maybe seeking reassurance, rather than rely on my personal interpretation of Scripture, which is worse than useless, I turned to one of the Fathers of the Church, Saint John Chrysostom.
Stephen Covey wrote a once-famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Six of the habits are forgettable, and should be forgotten. But the seventh—ah, that is everything! “Begin with the end in mind.” What is our end? That is easy—winning. What is the winning condition? It is the total, permanent defeat of the Left, of the ideology at the heart of the Enlightenment, with its two core principles of total emancipation from all bonds not continuously chosen, and of total forced equality of all people. When this defeat is accomplished, Right principles, those based in reality and recognizing the nature of man, his limitations, and his capabilities, can again become ascendant.
Christian nationalism is in the air. While that obscure term has been weaponized recently to whip up hate against Christians, it is a real thing, with many historical manifestations. For both Christianity and nationalism are excellent and awesome, and like the chocolate and peanut butter in Reese’s, they are even better together than alone. Still, the combination of state and religion has not always been well executed. It must be, however, for mankind to flourish, which is why one pillar of Foundationalism is establishing the proper balance in the society of the future. To this end, we can learn a lot from this history of the first thousand years of Christianity.
This, Carl Schmitt’s best-known work, first published in 1932, is a crucial book for our present moment. The clear-eyed Schmitt, who stands far above any modern political philosopher, writes here of timeless principles that lie behind political action, and he slices through the ignorance, doublespeak, and confusion that surround any discussion today of the “why” of politics. As always, he offers a crisp analysis of reality, with implications and applications for all times and moments. And for Christians in today’s America, this book has extra value, because reading it restores the proper Christian understanding of “enemy,” something that has been (quite recently) lost, to our great detriment.
Myths about Christianity abound, and some myths even pass as common knowledge. One myth is that Christians, after Jesus Christ started a new religion, worshipped in a very simple manner, revolving around undeveloped doctrines of love and sharing. Only later, we are often told (by both devout Protestants and by unbelievers, advancing different agendas) was this plain worship larded up with new doctrines and liturgies, which are encrustations on true Christianity. Stephen De Young works hard to explode all parts of this myth, explaining in The Religion of the Apostles that the beliefs and worship of the first Christians were essentially identical to those written down some years later, and were not, in most important ways, new at all.
Fitzpatrick’s War, a prophetic 2004 work of fiction, which I read on a whim, has, somewhat to my surprise, stuck deeply in my mind. Not only does the book echo events that have happened since its publication, it also bids fair to predict the broad outlines of the immediate future. What is more, Fitzpatrick’s War caused me to think about two other topics that interest me, which as it happens are the central themes of this book. First, as our civilization falls backwards in confusion, can we arrest and reverse apparently-inevitable decline? And, not obviously related, but in fact necessarily related, what will God’s judgment be on violence, even arguably-justified violence, that is the certain result of civilizational upheaval?
Many, if not most, modern Christians are crypto-Marcionites. They resonate with the heresy that God, as revealed in the Old Testament, is different from God as revealed by Jesus Christ. Marcion (the second-century-A.D. originator of the heresy, an early form of Gnosticism) had to throw out the entire Old Testament and most of the New Testament to make this idea coherent. Moderns don’t bother with coherency; they simply erase or ignore much of what God does in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, because some of it is unpalatable to modern tastes. To correct this basic theological error, Father Stephen De Young, an Orthodox priest, is here to justify, or at least explain, the ways of God to man.
It has long been fashionable to regard Christianity as myth, no different in substance than many other ancient myths. Sometimes this is done to glibly dismiss Christ’s message; sometimes it is done in sorrow, viewing, as C. S. Lewis did before his conversion, Christianity as one of many lies, even if was “breathed through silver.” René Girard entirely rejects this idea, offering an anthropological, rather than spiritual, argument for Christianity being a true myth, and for the complete uniqueness of Christianity, as well for as its centrality to the human story. Girard’s appeal is that his framework explains the core of all human societies, and thus explains, at any moment, the present. Therefore, though he died in 2015, Girard says much about America in 2021.