The Long View 2005-10-16: Rather, Miers, Benedict, O'Brien

Pope Benedict didn't get enough credit for the alarming things he said that went over everyone's heads.

Rather, Miers, Benedict, O'Brien

Regarding the Dan Rather scandal involving the fake Air National Guard memos, readers will recall that it was not so much the discovery of the forgery that discredited Rather as his repeated and easily refuted attempts to rebut the criticisms. A similar pattern is emerging in connection with Harriet Miers's nomination to the Supreme Court. This week, we will be treated to this:

Stunned by conservative opposition to Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, President Bush next week will bring in former justices from her home state of Texas to trumpet her qualifications for the nation's highest court.

Many persons will not be comforted by such endorsements. Certainly there was little comfort to be drawn from this week's sample of pro-nomination propaganda, which seemed to consist mostly of high praise for the sort of collegial thoughtfulness that might earn a summer intern an extra-special letter of commendation from the boss.

The White House seems to be intent on actually going through with this. It's a shame, really: everything else seems to be going so well at the moment.

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Doomsday: The Latest Word if Not the Last: So says the headline of a Sunday New York Times piece (and not behind a registration interface, for a mercy) about last week's little boomlet in disaster eschatology. The Times rounded up some of the usual suspects, who recited the received wisdom about dispensationalism and the evangelicals. If you were looking for signs of endtime thinking, however, you might have been better advised to pursue this story on Lifesite: Vatican Correspondent John Allen Notes Pope Using "Apocalyptic" Language The headline is an interesting exaggeration. The actual report by John Allen deals with the Synod of bishops that opened in Rome at the beginning of this month. Most of the report deals with the discussion about proposals for a married clergy. However, the story does mention some remarks in Pope Benedict's homily that really do become more alarming the longer you look at them. I excerpt from the Vatican's text:

The reading from the Prophet Isaiah and today's Gospel set before our eyes one of the great images of Sacred Scripture: the image of the vine...Thus, the reading from the Prophet that we have just heard begins like a canticle of love: God created a vineyard for himself - this is an image of the history of love for humanity, of his love for Israel which he chose...Will he find a response? Or will what happened to the vine of which God says in Isaiah: "He waited for it to produce grapes but it yielded wild grapes", also happen to us?...In the Old and New Testaments, the Lord proclaims judgment on the unfaithful vineyard. The judgment that Isaiah foresaw is brought about in the great wars and exiles for which the Assyrians and Babylonians were responsible. The judgment announced by the Lord Jesus refers above all to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Yet the threat of judgment also concerns us, the Church in Europe, Europe and the West in general. With this Gospel, the Lord is also crying out to our ears the words that in the Book of Revelation he addresses to the Church of Ephesus: "If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place" (2: 5). Light can also be taken away from us...

Had Benedict said simply "the Church" instead of "the Church in Europe," we would have something very close to a threat of supersession. In other words, just as the Church superseded Judaism (we can quibble about to what degree), so the Church herself might be superceded. This is essentially what the Joachimites (though not Joachim of Fiore himself) said in the 13th and 14th centuries, when they claimed that age of the Son had passed and the age of the Holy Spirit had begun. Again, Benedict meant no such thing, but he took that curve awfully narrowly.

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And then there's Michael O'Brien, the author of several endtime novels from a Catholic perspective. A few weeks ago, he publicly asked the question: Are We Living in Apocalyptic Times?. To that he answered "Yes," but with the traditional gloss that the Endtime began in the time of Jesus. We all meet Judgment Day personally. In historical terms, the endtime drama is staged in every age, in different forms. Again, this is not a new thought, even for a Catholic novelist. Regarding Doomsday Today, O'Brien cites the Catechism:

Section 676 the Antichrist deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope that can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially in the “intrinsically perverse” political form of secular messianism.

In O'Brien's estimation, there is quite a lot of this about these days, though he does not make bold to say whether these are the ultimate endtimes, of which he says: "The major apocalypse will be that period of history when *everything* is tested..." I would suggest, though, that his fears about governmental intolerance are perhaps just too 20th century. The reign of Antichrist is not a tyranny, but a fashion.


Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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