Apocalyptic and Gnostic Things

It’s a phenomenon among bloggers, and looking back to 1998, it seems to have always been with many of us. While it can be easy enough to find online allies, it still serves some among us to look back decades and centuries and feel confirmed that figures from the past were naturally talking exactly about us. About our era. Our special days. When we are here, struggling, and trying to remain faithful, they were looking ahead, knowingly.

I saw this headline at Catholic Herald, “How prophetic were Fulton Sheen’s words 80 years ago,” and blogger Francis Phillips cited this quote:

We are at the end of a tradition and a civilization which believed we could preserve Christianity without Christ, religion without a creed, meditation without sacrifice, family life without moral responsibility, sex without purity and economics without ethics. We have completed our experiment of living without God…

And how could this not apply today? Other bloggers have cited St Malachy to say, “O look: it’s all coming to an end now.”

Clearly, some 16th century anonymous forger is not in the same ballpark as Fulton Sheen. But it goes to show how anything can be taken out of context, given a little imagination. Consider the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism and communism (among other things) and we can well ask why on Earth Fulton Sheen would be talking about all that old crap when he is far more likely to be predicting the future eighty years hence? And just for us and some of our pricked consciences of the 21st century.

I was thinking more about how apt the teaching of the Lord is:

The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. There will be those who will say to you, ‘Look, there he is,’ [or] ‘Look, here he is.’ Do not go off, do not run in pursuit. (Luke 17:22-23)

Clearly, life has become difficult for many elder sisters and brothers in Christendom. Does it do any good to go running off to the nearest gnostic utterance, some renaissance forgery, or some internet wingnuttery? I think there are better options.

The authors of Daniel and Revelation had mastered the genre of apocalyptic prophecy. It is not the same as people attempting to predict the future. The former have useful and fruitful things to teach modern believers about approaching their faith and life in difficult circumstances. The latter, and their third secrets, pope predictions, and other things fall into the category of gnosticism.

Gnosticism thrives on secret knowledge. Put simply, gossip. Classic gnosticism divides the cult by exalting those who possess the secrets–people who have been chosen and special in some way. Like bloggers or 11th century Irish bishops or people who have special visions that nobody else saw. And they or others using these people develop that smarmy attitude of knowing better. Look out: because somebody is looking for payment: if not money, then attention.

Jesus reassures his disciples they will not see the end days. I don’t believe we will see them in this century. I think the Church will still be rolling through the universe tens of thousands of years hence. Gnostics and apocalyptics will probably still be with us. With my luck, something on this blog will predict some future running off the rails.

I believe we are all far better off not looking for the signs, the secrets, and the insider knowledge. We’re better off not entertaining the notions of the end, not paying attention to the knowledge of the in-crowd.

Which isn’t to say bad things can’t and won’t happen to people. My sense is that life has troubles enough of its own. The sky doesn’t have to fall in order to convince me it’s an excellent idea to stick close to Christ.

My quick advice, in case anybody is still reading who is leaning to St Malachy …

- Strength in numbers. Community is always helpful to keep one honest and correct any inclination to swerve far out to fringe material.

- Find dissenters you can trust. I value people who can both disagree with me and who inspire my trust. Seriously: there is no better corrective on my own selfish impulses. My wife is great in this regard. I have often benefitted from colleagues as well as the occasional internet friend.

- Stick to the liturgy and the Scriptures. Ignore the far-fringe saints. If any work or idea is controversial in the sense of it might be a forgery, or if it is not readily available mainstream Catholic knowledge, then dismiss it.

- I cannot overstate the value Lectio Divina has had in my life. It can be done with the Bible, with liturgical texts, and even with the writings of the saints. I stick with the Bible.

- Be inspired by great art: iconography, sculpture, painting.

- Make a silent retreat. Monasteries are ideal places.

- Pray every day for at least twenty minutes.

 

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to Apocalyptic and Gnostic Things

  1. Well said! I feel old saying this, but being a former Evangelical, I’ve seen all this before. I was a teenager and I was completely caught up in the fear over Y2K. I also had an aunt who had a copy of the book The Late Great Planet Earth. It’s sad to see Catholics doing this, but not really all surprising I suppose. Human nature is human nature. There’s something exciting and gratifying about believing that you are a member of a small, righteous sect which has been gifted with divine revelation.

  2. Charles says:

    Great post, Todd.
    This malaise everyone’s “feeling” is like a real estate agent muttering “location, location, location.”
    We should be muttering “perspective, perspective, perspective.”

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