A tale of two cities

Napoleon crowns himself

Napoleon crowns himself

I have heard it said that history repeats it self. Another commentator said that history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. My favorite quote is attributed to philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Today we should remember the past by honoring a Christian martyr who lived and died in the second century during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Today is the feast day of Justin Martyr who wrote the “First Apology in the Defense of the Christians.” A section of this document is part of the Office of Readings during Easter. In this selection, Justin describes the Mass of the Second Century, which is basically the same as the Mass we celebrate today.

In the beginning of the selection, though, St. Justin has an answer to those in our present day who are appalled by any suggestion that a Catholic public official who votes for pro-abortion legislation or enacts pro-abortion policies should be denied Holy Communion because the imposition of this penalty would “politicize” the Sacrament.

St. Justin has this to say about the reception of Holy Communion:

“No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.”

Although Jesus the Christ did not directly address many of the moral issues of our day, He did establish a Church which He gave all authority to make disciples of the nations. He further promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church throughout the ages. It is abundantly clear that any person who holds public office, who claims to be Catholic but who does not actively seek to correct the social injustice of legal abortion should not be admitted to the Holy Eucharist because of the great scandal it causes the faithful and because of the public official’s formal cooperation with evil.

St. Justin did not just talk the talk but he walked the walk which eventually led to his martyrdom in 165 AD. Rusticus, the Prefect of Rome who judged St. Justin, said it was simple: all St. Justin had to do to preserve his own life was to have faith in the gods and obey the emperor by offering sacrifice to those gods. On the other hand, “if you do not do as you are commanded you will be tortured without mercy” and then killed. St. Justin and his companions answered, “do what you will, we are Christians and we do not offer sacrifice to idols. No one who is right thinking stoops from true worship to false worship.” St. Justin and his companions were then led away to be scourged and beheaded.

This confrontation between the Power of the State and the convictions of the followers of Christ who make up His Church on earth have been repeated over and over again throughout the centuries. Christians have had to choose between Caesar and Christ, who have irreconcilable claims to each human being, and there just does not seem to be any common ground between them.

The painting depicted at the top of this post shows the self-coronation of the Emperor Napolean in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France in 1804. The Pope had been invited to crown Napolean, but when the time came, Napolean grabbed the crown and placed it on his own head.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, during the preceding decade, the French Revolution had brought about a terrible persecution of the Church and an attempted de-Christianization of France. The revolutionaries eventually turned the Cathedral of Notre Dame into a “Temple of Reason.” The Sunday Mass was replaced by a civil mass officiated by the naked goddesses of Reason and Liberty, apparently portrayed by women from the lower class but also by middle-class French women.

The mastermind of the “Reign of Terror,” Robespierre, and others, promoted a new religion which would still recognize a “Supreme Being” because this would be advantageous to the State. However, that new religion would dispense with the priesthood because priests were to religion what charlatans were to medicine, and that the true priest of the Supreme Being was nature.

The “New Religion” did not happen overnight but it was promoted gradually and incrementally. First, Catholicism was disestablished as the state religion and the clergy were dispossessed of their property and incomes. The Catholic clergy effectively became employees of the state and relied upon it for housing and income. Then the state legislature enacted the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790. Under the Constitution, Bishops and Priests would be elected by the people or by bureaucracies and named by the state. Each member of the clergy was required to take an oath of fidelity to the nation, the king (he had not been beheaded at that time), the law and the constitution. They were not to seek confirmation from the Pope.

The French Bishops rejected the Constitution and urged their priests and faithful to do the same. Then a deadline was set for November 27,1790.  By that date the clergy had to take the oath or they would lose their offices, and all who refused, and who nevertheless continued to discharge their priestly functions, would be prosecuted as disturbers of the public peace. According to the public records, 7 bishops out of 125 took the Constitutional oath. However, 23,093 priests were called to swear and 13,118 took the oath. Thenceforth there were two classes of clergy, the non-juring or refractory priests, who were faithful to Rome and refused the oath, and the jurors, sworn or constitutional priests who had consented to take the oath. It is also reported that more than half the French people did not want the new church. Thus there became two churches in France, the “Constitutional Church” with newly elected Bishops and Clergy and the Roman Catholic Church loyal to Jesus Christ and His Vicar on earth, the Pope.

The loyal members of the Catholic Church then suffered a severe persecution, including deportation, imprisonment, and execution of priests, nuns, and lay faithful; mobs beating up the faithful attending Mass celebrated by the loyal priests, and raping nuns and other pious women. “Missionary representatives” were sent to the provinces to close Churches, hunt down citizens suspected of religious practices, force the Constitutional priests to marry and forbade priests to ask those intending to marry if they were baptized, had been to confession, or were divorced.

Then persecution of all religious ideas began, the revolutionary calendar replaced the Christian calendar. Church bells and other material treasures of Churches were seized and melted down by the municipal governments. The rest of “decadi”, every tenth day, replaced the Sunday rest and the stories of the lives of French revolutionaries replaced the lives of the saints in schools.

We know now that despite the persecution of the Catholic Church in France it was not completely destroyed by the State, but eventually regained some measure of independence and freedom in the 19th Century.

The Roman Catholic Church’s survival in France illustrated the famous adage of Tertullian: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” One example of this occurred in the early 19th Century. A French priest, Blessed Father Basil Moreau, founded a new religious order of priests and brothers known as the Congregation of the Holy Cross. One of the first priests of the Congregation was Father Edward Sorin. Soon after the founding of the Order he left France for the United States to found a Catholic college. He made his way to Indiana where he established a college in the area now known as South Bend. Thus he founded the College of Notre Dame du Lac in 1842; the name meaning Our Lady of the Lake.

Notre Dame University has been in the news due to the controversy over the invitation given to President Barack Obama to speak at this year’s commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2009 and to receive an honorary law degree from the Notre Dame Law School. Catholics in America have been divided over the invitation.  Catholic Bishops, clergy, and lay faithful objected to the invitation due to President Obama’s words and actions which have promoted the killing of unborn children in the womb of their mothers before and during his presidency. The Catholic Bishops issued a directive in 2004 that “Catholic Communities and Catholic Institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

President Obama receives honorary degree from Notre Dame

President Obama receives honorary degree from Notre Dame

To view the pro-abortion actions of President Obama, follow this link to life news.com. According to 80 American Roman Catholic Bishops, many priests, and 346,000 American Catholics who signed a petition protesting the invitation, the leadership of Notre Dame violated the Bishop’s directive by extending the invitation to speak and by awarding an honorary law degree. A largely ignored Rasmussen Poll taken in early May found that 60% of Catholics opposed the awarding of an honorary degree to the President, while only 25% supported it. Unfortunately, in the Joyce Arena, most of the Catholics in attendance showed their enthusiastic support for President Obama. When pro-life protestors in the arena shouted out “to stop the killing of babies” the crowd began loudly chanting Obama’s campaign slogan “Yes We Can.”

The event has been held and much has been written about it, but I am concerned that it has an ominous portent of the possible future of the Roman Catholic Church in America. President Obama has proven to be a divisive figure for American Catholics. Many Catholics, including clergy, intellectuals, and academics seem to support and justify every action he takes. Could Mr. Obama’s solicitation of an invitation to Notre Dame be part of an overall strategy to drive a wedge between Catholics particularly between the faithful and their Bishops?

There seems to have been a line drawn in the sand in America over the issues of abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and, increasingly, assisted suicide and euthanasia for the elderly and the disabled. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is standing on one side of that line and he is beckoning Roman Catholics to join him on his side of the line, which our former Holy Father John Paul the Great vividly described as the Culture of Death.

A homosexual activist appointed by President Obama to an advisory council on faith-based organizations called Pope Benedict XVI a discredited leader for opposing the distribution of condoms in Africa to stop the spread of HIV-AIDS. The same official called the Knights of Columbus a “discredited army of oppression” for supporting the ban on same-sex marriage in California. He has not been removed from office.

In San Diego a Christian minister is being prosecuted by city officials for holding a bible study in his home without a permit. In Connecticut, state legislators introduced a bill to strip the governing authority of Bishops over Church property and give it to elected lay members of the churches.  Although the bill was defeated, the Catholic Church is now being investigated by the State of Connecticut for violation of the State lobbying law because the diocese was not registered as a lobbyist when it campaigned against the law. In Pennsylvania, a local state legislator has introduced a bill to subject the Diocese’s teaching ministry to the jurisdiction of  the State Labor Relations Board. The New Hampshire legislature did not pass the bill allowing same-sex marriage because religious ministers were exempted from compliance with the law. A Homeland Security Dept Report under Janet Napolitano, an Obama appointee, lists pro-life activists and those who oppose same-sex marriage as potential domestic terrorists.

These are only a fraction of  the actions being taken against the Roman Catholic Church in America and other Christian Churches teaching a biblical world view on moral issues.

A present darkness seems to be descending on our country. Providentially the Holy Spirit has also been moving to convert, form, and mobilize Catholic men in America to the take their rightful places in the Church, in our families, and in the nation. Let us ask St. Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer, to protect the Church and the Family and our Nation from the onslaught of moral evil which is being accepted by more and more Americans.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Cultural decay, History, Saint of the day

One Comment on “A tale of two cities”


  1. Glen,
    Terrific reflection! It is very insightful and a call to all Catholics/Christians to choose on which side they will stand. Will they stand with the Church of Jesus Christ or with President Obama and the culture of death?


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