A Tale of Three Revolutions

Last night I attended a meeting of the Alhambra Historical Society, at which Joyce Amaro, president of the Alhambra Preservation Group, gave a presentation on the formerly Episcopalian chapel of Ss. Simon and Jude and her organisation’s thus far successful efforts to preserve it (the Episcopalian retirement home it was part of has been sold and is being redeveloped). Despite the initial desire of the developer to raze the building, both Historical Society and Preservation Group had managed to interest the city in saving the historic chapel, and for the first time in local history, the City Council actually rallied to the cause — although the next use of the building remains much in doubt. Usually such gatherings and their sponsoring organisations gather a majority of elderly ladies, some older men, and a number of younger enthusiasts, and this night was no different. One volunteer lady provided coffee and cookies for the period before the talk, and the formal proceedings were opened with the Pledge of Allegiance and closed with a Motion to Adjourn. I left feeling greatly elated.

One might well wonder whence this elation came over the preservation of a non-Catholic worship-space in an obscure suburb of Los Angeles (albeit one with an unusual amount of Carmelite influence: a parish run by that order where the Latin Mass is offered; a cloistered monastery; and a retreat house run by active-but-full-habited-sisters). Was it not a frivolous waste of one’s time? Is not the Pledge itself merely a reminder of the empty rituals surrounding our former reverence for Flag and Constitution — akin to the similar ceremonial employed by the Sovereigns of Great Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Japan, and the Governors-General of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, and such like Commonwealth Realms? Indeed, the argument might be made that our civic rites are emptier still than these foreign ones, being based upon the quasi-Masonic ideology and practice that have underlaid our republic from its beginning, and found their outlet in such institutions as the Public School, Rotary, Kiwanis, Elks, Boy Scouts, American Legion, and — as far as some are concerned — the Knights of Columbus and Peter Claver (for the record, I myself am a proud Eagle Scout and as proud a member of both Columbus and Claver — though I don’t like the former’s new uniform!).

To both of these questions, I must give a resounding “no!” On the contrary, for all that the Alhambran citizens concerned are probably unaware of it, they have accomplished thus far a profoundly Counter-Revolutionary and (which amounts to the same thing in a society whose rulers base their legitimacy upon never-ending revolution) Counter-Cultural act. To understand why this is so, we must look at the three revolutions — or by our time concurrent waves of revolution — which have occurred since Martin Luther tacked up his 95 theses on the Wittenberg Church door on Hallowe’en night of 1517. To comprehend them, however, we must first look at what those revolutions were aimed at.

In a word, it was Christendom. Now, this is a hard thing to describe, given that its origins and development encompass so many disparate elements: Christianity (in this sense meaning Catholicism and Orthodoxy with their on-again off-again schism), originating in Palestine; Greek Philosophy, Roman Law, and the energy brought to the dying Roman Empire in East and West by Germanic, Slavic, and Magyar invaders. There are a number of ways of describing that society: contemporaries spoke of the “priests who bless it, knights who defend it, and peasants who feed it,” or of the three estates of clergy, nobility, and commoners (in some places these were held to be four, dividing commoners between townsmen with their crafts and trade, and peasants with their agriculture) — all of them presided over by Kings crowned and anointed by God through the Church, and they in turn and in some way by the successor to the Roman Emperors (be that successor considered Holy Roman or Byzantine). This state of affairs was described by some of the English who defended it long after it had been broken as the three societal pillars of “altar, throne, and cottage (or hearth).”  Dickens, later than that, described it satirically in his rhyme:

O let us love our occupations,

Bless the Squire and his relations.

Live upon our daily rations,

And always know our proper stations.

Now this state — despite what one’s more Romantic inclinations may say — was far from Paradise. Made up of fallen men, it was prone to all the sins that men as individuals and groups have always been prone to. Disease and famine were rife, and medicine and sanitation — to our eyes (and noses), a joke.  It was prone to division, schisms, and civil wars — sometimes horribly murderous conflicts, such as the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses. Alongside all of that, the schism between East and West led to the failure of the Crusades, and innumerable other horrors. But however divided the men of that time might be on specific issues, the issues involved the practical application of basic principles that all sides agreed upon: Guelphs and Ghibellines might fight bloody battles over which rights belonged to the Pope and which to the Emperor; but neither denied that the Pope was religious head of the Church, and the Emperor the uttermost secular ruler. York and Lancaster fought atrociously over which house was rightful heir to the throne — but neither denied the existence of that throne. Most of the peasant rebellions (though not all — although the exceptions were generally tied up with religious heresy) did not seek to exterminate the nobility so much as to force them to play what the rebels thought their proper roles to be. The major advantage that Christendom had over us is that its principles were based upon spiritual and material reality; the ones we have come to accept are not, and so come ready-made with the doom that follows all long-term denials of things as they are.

The first of the three revolutions against Christendom started with Martin Luther; it was the attack upon the altar.  The initial part of that assault, the so-called Protestant Reformation, is well known, as is much of the response it called forth on the part of Catholics: the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Risings in West and North, the Swedish revolts, the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuits, etc. All of this culminated in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. Despite appearances, however, the revolt continued. For one thing, even in those countries that retained the Faith, this was due to a conscious choice on the part of people and/or Sovereigns, as opposed to mere acceptance of it as simple reality.

Europe began its explosion across the globe, and exported its strains and stresses thereto. Portugal supported the Faith in the East Indies via the Padroado, France exercised the protectorate of Catholic missions in the Turkish and Chinese Empires and its own colonies, and Spain the Latin American Patronato. But under the influence of the so-called Enlightenment, Catholic “Enlightened Despots” attempted to rule the Church and destroy the Jesuits. The French Revolution attacked the Church wherever in Europe it held sway, murdering clergy and nuns, burning churches and dissolving religious houses. After the honeymoon of the Restoration period, regimes manned by self-professed Catholics in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Latin America seized Church properties and abolished religious orders at will. Among the high points of this process was the seizure of the Papal States. There followed the great totalitarianisms of the 20th century, chief of which — in body count and staying power — was Communism, which happily accepted the title of militant atheism. To be sure, there was active resistance, both political and military, to this stage of the revolt — often under the sign of the Sacred Heart. Some of this spirit — more or less unconsciously — made its way into Northern Europe, and spurred such efforts as Anglo-Catholicism, High Church Lutheranism, and “Scoto-Catholicism.” Later on, many would be martyred by or die fighting Communism and Nazism.

But by the late 19th century, the revolt against the altar was internalised within the Church. The first sign of this was the Modernist heresy, stepped upon by Pope St. Pius X. But only the tops of that plant were cut, and despite warnings by Ven. Pius XII in Humani Generis and Mediator Dei, they bloomed forth after the Council. Indeed, the blooms were so luxuriant that they not only drove its traditional rites and liturgical language from the life of the vast majority of the Latin Rite, but also culminated with the highest authorities in the Church calling upon the Faithful to celebrate as a gift from God the initial act of rebellion five centuries ago. There has, of course, been resistance to these developments; but in a hierarchical Church, such resistance has been scattered, disorganised, and divided, unsure of its goals or even the root causes of the problem. Still, in recent years new orders have arisen, old ones revived some of their ancient spirit, and more participation in the life of the Church demanded of and received from many who might have been lukewarm otherwise. Certainly the Eastern Rites have become more prominent, the creation of the Anglican Ordinariates is promising, and the liberation by Benedict XVI of the traditional rites (to say nothing of the ever increasing calibre of younger priests, seminarians, and religious in general) bode well for the future. Rather than incipient schism, the current division in the Church more nearly resembles a generation gap.  Still, “We know not what gate of Hell tomorrow will not prevail.”

The second and concurrent revolt was and is against the throne. The seeds of this wave of revolution were sown in the first — in which, ironically, several crowned and anointed Kings were willing participants. But the sacred nature of the crown was derived from the Church; if profane hands could lay fingers upon the one, why not the other? It is not really a surprise that Thomas Cromwell, Henry VII’s major henchman in the dissolution of the monasteries, should be the great-uncle of Oliver Cromwell, architect of the murder of the saintly Charles I. Cromwell’s republic died with him; the martyred King’s sons, Charles II and James II, tried to rule as had their forebears — the latter openly Catholic. This resulted in his exile and that of his son and grandsons, while his eldest daughter and her Dutch husband made a deal with the oligarchy that Henry VIII’s distribution of pilfered monastic lands created. They would reign in appearance; the oligarchs would rule in fact, via parliament. The rightful Kings in exile, and their supporters, the “Jacobites,” would be dismissed by crookedly written history as “plotters” and “rebels, until the last direct heir died in 1807.

Meanwhile, the usurped throne having passed to the House of Hanover, whose first two members had seen fit to leave political affairs entirely to their ministers (hence the usurpation of the Royal Prerogative in Great Britain by the political class), this cozy state of affairs seemed threatened by the Third George, the “first to glory in the name of Briton.” George III’s attempts to regain something of the Crown’s rightful place in political life was stopped by political chicanery at home and the 1775-1783 Revolution in the American colonies. The intervention on the rebel side by Kings Louis XVI of France and Carlos III allowed the revolutionaries to triumph; apart from embittering George III against Catholic Emancipation (which he had favoured), thus intervention bore bitter fruit — France’s bankruptcy and ensuing revolution of their own, and the spread of revolutionary ideas in Latin America which germinated when Spain was occupied by French Revolutionary forces, stripping that country of most her empire in the New World. Indeed, thrones — including the Papal one — were overturned by those same armies throughout Europe. Finally, their head made himself Emperor, which lasted about eleven years until the combined forces of reaction finally defeated him in 1815. Of course, this revolution had merged in Europe with the ongoing revolt against the altar, and defenders of both Church and State congratulated themselves that both genies had been put back in the bottle.

They were wrong, however, and the post Napoleonic settlement lasted only 15 years before rebellions broke out again. Radical revolutionaries wanted republics, moderate ones wished for shackled Monarchies after the British fashion. Regimes succeeded one another in France, civil wars broke out in Spain and Portugal, traditional local monarchies in Germany and Italy were replaced by single liberal ones, and the Scandinavian and Low Country Sovereigns gradually and peacefully surrendered power to their political classes as the price of survival. By 1914, only Austria-Hungary and Russia resembled traditional European Monarchies; Germany’s Kaiser considered himself one as well, but this illusion would be shattered as he lost power to his generals during World War I. That conflict’s end would find him in exile, Austria’s Emperor a white martyr, and Russia’s a red one.

Although the British supported a number of westernizing Muslim Sovereigns in the Near East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the rising dictators in Europe had little use for either altar or throne: Hitler openly despised the Church and Royals alike; Mussolini veered sufficiently from his ideology to tolerate Victor Emmanuel III and sign the Lateran treaty. But toward the end of the war il Duce was able to become fully himself in the Italian Social Republic. The Great Dictators defeated with their wing of the revolution, the Soviets and Americans were able to continue the job: the Communists disposed of the Kings of Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania (the Greek Monarchy, ironically, fell initially to anti-Communist military officers), while we sponsored the rigged plebiscite that deposed Italy’s Umberto II. As for Britain’s client Kings in the Muslin world, we helped topple Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Iran, while the Soviets attended to Afghanistan. This eventually ushered in our direct involvement in the area.

In European and Commonwealth countries that have retained their Sovereigns, there is to-day a constant erosion of their place in the State — near powerless though that is — in a manner reminiscent of the way Christmas and Easter are ignored or reduced whenever possible by our own powers that be. Oddly enough, our own national symbols in this country, for all that they were born in an early expression of this second revolution, are currently subjected to the same treatment — and not merely those of the Confederacy and Columbus. Overpaid athletes kneeling in disrespect at the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, teachers constantly reminding their ignorant charges that the Founding Fathers were racists, fewer and fewer schools reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, that multimedia shows like the National Constitution Centre’s Freedom Rising at national monuments show rather questionable versions of our history — these are all symptoms akin to the banishing of the Royal Arms from Australian courtrooms, and perpetrated by the same sort of people. It is not that an order has come down from some sort of Conspiracy Central, but merely that the dominant classes in each of the nations of the West have the same, ultimately self-destructive, set of ideas.

But as the first revolution was subsumed by the second, both of these have in turn been engulfed by the third. This one is a revolt against the third of the triad of Western Civilisation — the cottage or hearth, or to put it another, way, marriage, family, gender: human reality itself. This began in the 19th century with the legalisation of divorce and the questioning of what the neo-ignorant call “gender roles.” To be sure, there had always been a few women such as St. Hildegard of Bingen or St. Joan of Arc who had done the unexpected in learning, rulership, or war. But inevitably their careers were necessitated by the Manhood of the time failing to live up to its responsibilities. Not only was God’s Holy Will accomplished by the great ladies, but their pusillanimous male counterparts were rebuked thereby. But none of the women suggested that the general order of things should be overthrown. A byproduct of Luther’s revolt, however, was that marriage was desacralised. More and more women began to question their place in society. Vicious harridans such as Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes began the push to separate sex from procreation; not only did acceptance of their views lead to the acceptance of abortion, but it also made perversion respectable — after all, how different is it really from non-procreative “normal” sex? On and on it went, until, in the mind of our Western leadership, refusal to accept “gender fluidity” became the exclusive province of haters and bigots. This notion is now endlessly repeated in countless ways by our media. With it the family and all its domestic traditions and affections has collapsed — with horrific results. To all appearances, the three revolutions are well on their way to complete victory.

How to effectively resist such a seemingly inexorable current in human affairs? For starters, with oneself — not merely by rejecting falsehood, but by embracing Truth — and of course, the ultimate Truth, our Catholic Faith, as expressed in the four Creeds, and in the Infallible declarations of Popes and Councils. By attending liturgies that reflect those dogmas most fully. By use of the Sacramentals, and enthroning the Sacred Heart in one’s own home, both literally and figuratively, and by consecrating oneself to Our Lady.

But there is more. Encourage your pastor to mount public processions and feasts of Saints — as in Los Angeles, where the over two-centuries old tradition of a public procession and fiesta in honour of the Queen of Angels, patroness of the City, County, and Archdiocese has been revived. Attend whatever such exists in your town or parish — to say nothing of festivals mounted by any of the traditionally Catholic ethnic groups. Evangelise where you are.

Politically, there are two things one can do. There is self-education: learn about prior generations of resistance to the revolutions: the Jacobites, the Carlists, the Vendee, the Cristeros, our own Loyalists, the Latin American Royalists, and the White Russians, for example. Discover — through the magic of the internet and Google translate — the rich and multinational heritage of Counter-Revolutionary thought. Obviously, our predecessors in the struggle were sometimes incorrect and rarely successful. But it helps to learn how much of these revolutions we ourselves have absorbed by way of contrast — and might even spell out suggestions for a happier future.

Develop an interest in the local political scene. We may never get the Federal government or our own State to defund Planned Parenthood (though a happy minority of the latter already have). But we might — as in the town where I live — prevent a local branch from opening or prevail upon them to withdraw from our own town or neighbourhood. Moreover, good government really and truly does begin at home.

We need to develop a patriotism based upon the reality of our country, and not its supposed ideology. We can support the various Hereditary Organisations in their struggles to recognise or preserve existing recognition of their ancestors’ deeds — even if those deeds are not something we ourselves particularly like — there is a reason why the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War have endorsed the efforts of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in this area. In this realm, even reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in a club — for all that one might have reservations about the principles initially behind the Pledge — can be a constructive act. There are innumerable State and Local historical societies dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of their particular places — and the whole of them taken together are our rightful heritage as Americans, and our mission field as Catholics.

Which at last brings us back to the work of the Alhambra Historical Society. At the end of the day, the revolutions are against all that is Good, True, and Beautiful. Anyone defending any of those things in any sphere is — whether he or we is conscious of it — our ally; however much he may disagree with us in other, more important areas: in this he is unknowingly defending a Catholic principle, however minor. To the degree that we can help such people, we ought — and let our light shine before men by revealing our own motivations for doing so in whatever manner is most effective. Rather than retreating into icy bitterness at the things we cannot affect, we should joyfully set about dealing with those we can.