Saint Benedict Center’s conference will take place very soon (October 10-11). As I prepare my own comments on this year’s theme, I thought I would give both a plug for, and a sneak preview of, what our attendees will be hearing in a little over a month.
Our theme is “Catholic and Counterrevolutionary.” For my purposes, I will define “counterrevolutionary” as “of or pertaining to the restoration of a pre-revolutionary state of affairs.” In our thought here at Saint Benedict Center, a “revolution” and things “revolutionary” are necessarily bad. The French and Russian Revolutions are the notable historical examples that clearly illustrate the badness thereof, but revolution, as a spiritual ideal, predates these: It is seen in the ideals of Freemasonry, in the Enlightenment, in Protestantism, in the Renaissance rejection of Medieval Christian Civilization — indeed, in the very Fall of Man itself, and in that earlier Fall of Lucifer and his rebel angels.
If we agree with Saul Alinsky that the first radical — another name for a revolutionary — was Lucifer, it is not because, as Alinsky does, we think that revolution is a good thing. (Here is the dedication on the opening page of Rules for Radicals: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history… the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”)
If Lucifer is the first revolutionary, Jesus Christ is the first counterrevolutionary. I say “first,” not in order of chronology, but in that higher order of metaphysical primacy, according to which Saint Paul refers to Jesus Christ as “the firstborn of every creature” (Col. 1:15), “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18), and “the firstborn amongst many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Jesus Christ came to restore the pre-revolutionary state of affairs. That is, He came to restore man to God’s grace and to reverse the worst effects of the Fall without altering some of its other effects.
Before Original Sin, Adam enjoyed infused knowledge in his intellect, loving obedience in his will, spontaneous virtue in his emotions, and no sickness or death in the body; after the fall, he is punished with ignorance in the intellect, malice in the will, concupiscence in the emotions, and suffering and death in the body.
God Himself had to grant the remedies. These are principally two: The Divine Law and grace. These heal ignorance and malice, but do not remove concupiscence; nor do they do away with death. Our way back to God must therefore, include the suffering consequent upon resisting temptation and being resigned in the face of death. We must — to use the Ignatian phrase — agere contra, act against our sinful inclinations. That hurts.
The French ultramontane thinker, Joseph de Maistre, said: “The Counter-Revolution will not be a reverse revolution, but the reverse of the Revolution.” Revolution corrodes order, whereas the Counterrevolution restores it. The revolutionary tears down, while the counterrevolutionary builds up. The revolutionary is a bully, a murderer; he hurls Molotov cocktails and terrorizes noncombatants. Counterrevolutionaries may not descend to such methods. Our task is harder, but while it appears that the progress of history is against us, we know that the Lord of History is for us. “If God be for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31). History is full of unexpected good turns that make those words of Jesus echo in our ears: “Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Today’s Catholic counterrevolutionary does not simply seek to reestablish the pre-Revolutionary status quo — if by that status quo, we mean some social order predating France’s Revolution. No, today’s Catholic counterrevolutionary must seek to establish society according to God’s will. In so doing, he seeks to do his part to cooperate with the Trinity in answering these two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
We would be mistaken if we became mere antiquarians or enthusiasts of an earlier age seeking the literal reestablishment, for instance, of the order of the Middle Ages, of the late patristic age, or of Spain as it was in the Counter-Reformation. Many individuals and families seeking intelligently and diligently to do God’s will may produce a society (however small) that vaguely resembles one of those, but it is the doing of God’s will that matters.
We see here a direct correlation toward what is counterrevolutionary and what is holy: God’s will is one with Himself; God’s will is God. When we conform our will to God’s, we unite ourselves to God. Now, union with God is the essence of sanctity. Those seeking to do God’s will in society are also seeking for sanctity. If they are not doing so for themselves as individuals and their families as small social units, then they are going about things the wrong way.
The Catholic counterrevolutionary has for his weapons the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. The counterrevolutionary also realizes the value of the Cross. Seeing suffering in the supernatural light of Faith, Hope, and Charity, he realizes that the Cross is our way to salvation. The revolutionary aims to make a painless world, a utopia, and ends up causing everyone tremendous pain. He speaks of a bloodless struggle and ends up spilling gallons of blood.
(An aside: Did you ever notice how the vast majority of futuristic films are dystopian in nature? My theory is that somehow, the Hollywood liberal progressive realizes deep down inside that his favorite ideas are actually horribly destructive.)
The counterrevolutionary is no utopian, and realizes that suffering is necessary for his aims, but he embraces that suffering himself, in union with that first Counterrevolutionary.
The revolutionaries and their revolutions will cause us suffering. In God’s admirable economy, this very suffering is one of the causes of our own sanctification, and therefore one of the greatest weapons against the revolutionaries and their revolutions. This is why Christ remedied the worst effects of the fall without altering them all. Salvation is now possible through the Cross. These words of a great spiritual writer could be directed to today’s would-be Catholic counterrevolutionary: “To be able to say Thy Will be done immediately and calmly in the midst of suffering — that is the perfection at which we must aim.” (They Speak by Silences by A Carthusian, p. 41.)
If we profit from the suffering our revolutionaries inflict on us, we fulfill the words of the psalmist: “They prepared a snare for my feet; and they bowed down my soul. They dug a pit before my face, and they are fallen into it” (Ps. 56:7).