So coddled are our lives today that the very minor mortifications undertaken during Lent probably oppress us more than the extremely rigorous fasting and abstinence undertaken in centuries past dismayed our ancestors. Those were more robust generations, morally and physically.
At any rate, whether we have observed Lent conscientiously or minimally, here we are once again celebrating the principal festival of the Church. For its celebratory aspect is pervasive and not simply as a contrast to the 40 lean days that have preceded it. In the Catholic Church over the past half-century there have been manifestations of a puritanical tendency whose disciples like to denounce “triumphalism”. The logical and irrefutable answer to those wry-mouthed critics is that for a Church which proclaims that God became man, suffered a humiliating death to redeem mankind and then rose from the dead to be anything other than triumphalist would be absurd. There is a time for hair-shirts and ashes; but the Paschal season is not that time.
Many people might suggest that Christians today have little to celebrate. In the immediate, temporal realm that is all too true: Christianity is in the early stages of a new period of persecution with ominous prospects. The objective is to drive Christianity out of public discourse and to bar its adherents from professions and occupations where they could not in conscience conform to the programme of the New World Order. Gradually, we can expect a two-tier society to emerge in which the influential professions will tacitly be closed to Christians – elderly Catholics will retain memories of how such a dispensation obtained in Scotland in their youth – though they will be acceptable as hewers of wood and drawers of water. Nor should cruder forms of persecution be ruled out in the longer term.
A cheerful thought for Easter morning, one might say. Actually, yes, from a purely Christian perspective, it is. Persecution renews the Church. Tertullian famously said that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of future Christians. What is dangerous, however, is a non-violent persecution – a contrived social dysphoria directed at Christians – which invites Stockholm Syndrome and collaboration from the weak in spirit. Christian leaders have largely succumbed to this in recent decades. The Church of England is so far impregnated with secular assumptions as effectively to have desacralised itself.
The Catholic Church is in a mess (that is probably the least contentious observation ever penned in this column). Since the Second Vatican Catastrophe it has been in proliferating disarray. Nor is there evidence yet that serial disaffection and decline have sufficiently chastened the world’s bishops for them to draw back from the lemming stampede towards the cliff-edge that has been their principal activity over the past half-century. On the other hand there are clear symptoms of genuine recovery, with young people in particular gravitating to traditional communities where the timeless doctrines, practices and liturgy of the Church are at last undergoing a heart-warming revival.
That is a lesson that might profitably be learned across all Christian denominations. The future lies in the uncompromising reassertion of tradition and doctrine. While the mainstream denominations in the West have been making fools of themselves, courting the secular world and jettisoning principles, the Orthodox have not budged an inch: their rites, liturgy and doctrines are unchanged – and they are thriving. Instead of attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable, the uncompromisingly God-hating secular establishment, Christians should proclaim their unique message without accommodating a society fatuously enslaved to the delusions of Rousseau, Voltaire and the other charlatans of the Pseudo-Enlightenment. The jaded Western world cannot indefinitely be distracted by technological toys; when the currencies become worthless or the antibiotics ineffective, it will desire access to a more profound, salvific mystery than yoga and New Age fripperies.
This cheeringly intransigent reality was eloquently articulated in his autobiography by that Catholic champion GK Chesterton: “So far as a man may be proud of a religion rooted in humility, I am very proud of my religion; I am especially proud of those parts of it that are most commonly called superstition. I am proud of being fettered by antiquated dogmas and enslaved by dead creeds (as my journalistic friends repeat with so much tenacity), for I know very well that it is the heretical creeds that are dead, and that it is only the reasonable dogma that lives long enough to be called antiquated.” «