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God’s Servant: Archbishop Thomas Cranmer

by Ryan Setliff

Thomas Cranmer, serving as Archbishop of Canterbury, played a pivotal role in the English Reformation of the church. When he first heard news about his appointment while away in continental Europe, he shrugged off the notion, even delaying his return in hopes an impatient Henry VIII would appoint another party. His initial reluctance to assume the position doesn’t obscure the monumental impact of his later influence on Christianity in England, the British Commonwealth, and the Western world.

Born 2 July, 1489, Cranmer’s early life revealed him to be a young prodigy. Under the tradition of primogeniture, the firstborn inherited the estate, so while his eldest brother held the family estate, Cranmer bound himself to the church as a man of letters and prepared for ministry. Coming of age, he entered Jesus College at Cambridge. Cranmer demonstrated an acumen for languages, having mastered Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, German and Italian. Thomas demonstrated much promise in the discipline of homiletics and theology as well. He cultivated a deep intimacy with the writings of the patristics and medieval scholastics. At age twenty-one, he became a fellow at Cambridge, but forfeited his fellowship upon marriage. Little is known of his first wife, and she died within a year, and thereafter Cranmer returned to studies at Cambridge.

It was the occasion of Thomas Cranmer being dispatched as an envoy of Henry VIII in the court of the Holy Roman Emperor that young Thomas came into contact with Lutherans. One may speculate that this experience had the effect of galvanizing young Cranmer into self-examination of his own professed theology, and challenged him to reexamine his understanding of the Holy Scriptures, giving highest credence to the authority of the Word of God as opposed to the specious interpretations of the Bishop of Rome.

Cranmer’s relationship to Henry VIII

Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon, and for the reason his wife yielded no son or heir, he came to detest his marriage, and asked for its renunciation by the Pope in the belief that it was illegitimate as he had married the former wife of his brother-in-law. The Papacy would not acquiesce in the divorce. Henry VIII had earlier been declared “Defender of the Faith” by the Holy See for his rigorous theological defense of the Tridentine Latin mass and the Roman Catholic Church, yet he grew to detest the Papacy for its obstruction of his divorce plans, and his desire for a son compelled him to press the matter further. So Henry VIII became a reluctant “Protestant” in spite of personally loathing Martin Luther. Henry VIII essentially continued to embrace Roman Catholic teaching minus the Pope.

Cranmer’s willingness to aid Henry VIII in articulating a rationale for his divorce endeared Henry VIII to Cranmer. So Henry VIII moved to nominate Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer supported the principle of Royal Supremacy, in which the king was held sovereign over the Church within his realm.

Henry VIII desired independence from Rome to advance his estate, justify encroachment upon the Roman Catholic Church’s monasteries and its wealth generating estates in order to raise and feed his armies. Protestants utilized the break from Rome as an opportunity to articulate Reformation truth, and effect reform of the English and Scottish churches.

The Lord worked his sovereignty through the actions and sins of King Henry VIII to effect his will for England and reform of its church. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).

It is often the taunt of Roman Catholics that the Anglican Church was conceived in the sin of Henry VIII and has seldom risen above the occasion of its birth. Yet Protestants need not reconcile themselves to the sins of Henry VIII, but rather recognize that his want of a divorce was the occasion for breaking England of subordination to the Pope in ecclesiastical affairs.

Thomas Cranmer: Protestant and Reformer

An engraving of an elder Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer mourned Henry’s death and it was later said that he demonstrated his grief by growing a beard. The beard was also a sign of his break with the past primacy of the Roman Bishop.

That Cranmer had Protestant sympathies very early on in his career is evident in his letter of 27 April 1535 to Arthur Plantagenet (d.1542), Viscount Lisle, an uncle of Henry VIII, where Thomas avowed “the very papacy and the see of Rome” is to be reviled, since papal decrees have “suppressed Christ”; christened the Pope as “a god of this world”; and they have “brought the professors of Christ into such an ignorance of Christ.”

For Cranmer, Holy Scripture was “the very foundation of the Reformed faith” and “whatever is found in Holy Scripture. . . must be taken for a most sure ground and infallible truth; and whatsoever cannot be grounded upon the same, touching our faith, is man’s device, changeable and uncertain.”

In his Homily of Salvation, Cranmer extrapolates man’s unequivocal dependence upon His creator God: “Because all men be sinners and offenders against God, and brokers of his law and commandments, therefore can no man by his own acts, works, and deeds (seem they never so good) be justified and made righteous before God; but every man of necessity is constrained to seek for another righteousness, or justification, to be received at God’s own hands, that is to say, the remission, pardon, and forgiveness of his sins and trespasses in such things as he hath offended.” Hence man’s need of Jesus Christ: “And this justification of righteousness, which we so receive by God’s mercy and Christ’s merits, embraced by faith, is taken, accepted, and allowed of God for our perfect and full justification.”

Cranmer’s writings attest to his belief in Reformation truth, which he shared with Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other English reformers. “This proposition, that we are justified by Christ only and not by our good works, is a very true and necessary doctrine of St Paul and other apostles and prophets, taught by them to set forth thereby the glory of Christ, and mercy of God by Christ,” avowed Cranmer. In fealty to Cranmer’s abiding love of the Holy Scriptures, the truth of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone was made known: “Although all that be justified must of necessity have charity as well as faith, yet neither faith nor charity be worthiness and merits of our justification, but that is ascribed only to our Savior Christ,” penned Cranmer, “which was offered upon the cross for our sins, and rose again for our justification.”

“Yet nevertheless, because by faith we know God’s mercy and grace promised by his word,” observed Cranmer, “(and that freely for Christ’s death and passion sake), and believe the same, and, being truly penitent, we by faith receive the same, and so excluding all glory from ourselves, we do by faith transcribe the whole glory of our justification to the merits of Christ only, (which properly is not the nature and office of charity;) therefore to set forth the same, it is said of faith in ancient writers, ‘we be justified only by faith,’ or ‘by faith alone,’ and in St. Paul, ‘we be justified by faith freely without works.”

Cranmer’s Sacramental Theology

The evolution of Cranmer’s Eucharistic theology is manifest in variance between two editions of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and 1552 and beyond. Originally he adhered to the classical medieval transubstantiation view, and then moved on to a brief Lutheran phase, in which he opted to speak of the ‘true presence of Christ’ as opposed to ‘real presence,’ and finally he settled on a view influenced by Bucer and close to Calvin whereby there is an effectual spiritual communion in Christ’s body and blood.

With the death of Henry VIII, Cranmer entered a period of mourning, growing out his beard, which symbolized his break with Rome, and reembrace of primitive apostolic Christianity, unencumbered by Romanist superstitions.

The crux of Cranmer’s liturgics, in particular the Lord’s Supper, are a fundamental shift in the focus of action, from the elements to the heart of the individual believer. Accordingly he rejected the medieval Romanist superstition of ‘transubstantiation’ as being without scriptural merit, unwarranted, and harmful for Christian disciples. Article XXVIII of The Articles of Religion declares that transubstantiation “cannot be proved by holy writ. . . it is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of the Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.”

According to the traditional Roman Catholic teaching, Christ is truly and physically present under the forms of bread and wine. Reformers such as Martin Luther, accepted the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament, but most reformers, including Thomas Cranmer rejected this view. For Cranmer the idea that Jesus could embody physical presence in every celebration was contrary to his human nature. He had ascended bodily into the heaven with a promised Second Advent, and simply promised us the παράκλητος / paraklétos (i.e., helper), in the person of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ’s return at the end of days. For these reasons, Cranmer discerned Christ was physically limited by the very nature of His humanity and His physical resurrection body. The Roman Catholic teaching was not in accord with the early Christian church, but Cranmer did acknowledge that Jesus Christ was spiritually present: “. . .although Christ in his human nature substantially, really, corporally, naturally and sensibly, be present with his Father in heaven yet sacramentally and spiritually he is here present. For in water, bread, and wine, he is present as in signs and sacraments, but he is indeed spiritually in the faithful Christian people, which according to Christ’s ordinance be baptized, or receive the holy communion, or unfeignedly believe in him.”

Cranmer’s Leadership during Reformation

As Gerald Bray recalls in “The Anglican Way,” Cranmer endeavored to provide an order of worship and liturgy. To this end, he devised the Book of Common Prayer, with the first edition appearing in 1549 and a subsequent edition in 1552 that aimed at a more express Reformed theology. Therein it contained services for daily worship, both morning and evening vespers, and a modus operandi for administration of baptism and communion, along with traditional ceremonies that were less often utilized. The Prayer Book was rich in biblical imagery, and English people absorbed a considerable breadth of knowledge of the Scripture from the Prayer Book, often repeated and easily memorized. Cranmer appropriated traditional medieval English liturgies, such as the Sarum rite (“Sarum” being Latin for Salisbury, a town in lower England), as well as liturgy drawn from Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Roman traditions. Cranmer tailored the Prayer Book and liturgies to stress the primacy of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in fealty. Accordingly the parishioner’s attention was directed away from the elements of bread and wine in the Eucharist and focused on more on his own spiritual state, in harmony with Reformed teaching, which provided opportunity for self-examination and recognition of the need for personal piety.

Cranmer’s leadership in the Reformation is often overlooked for the simple reason, Cranmer oscillated in his views, and his lack of consistency tends to overshadow his monumental efforts at demonstrating leadership as well as his subsequent martyrdom. For instance, Cranmer proposed a “godly synod” to rival that of the Council of Trent, and in effect answer Rome. To this end, he wrote the famous Geneva Reformer, John Calvin, and bid that John come to England:

Our adversaries are now holding their councils at Trent for the establishment of their errors; and shall we neglect to call together a godly synod, for the refutation of error, and for restoring and propagating the truth? They are, as I am informed, making decrees respecting the worship of the host; wherefore we ought to leave no stone unturned, not only that we may guard others against this idolatry, but also that we may ourselves come to an agreement upon the doctrine of this sacrament. It cannot escape your prudence how exceedingly the Church of God has been injured by dissensions and varieties of opinion respecting the sacrament of unity; and though they are now in some measure removed, yet I could wish for an agreement in this doctrine, not only as regards the subject itself, but also with respect to the words and forms of expression. You have now my wish, about which I have also written to Masters Philip [Melanchthon] and Bullinger; and I pray you to deliberate among yourselves as to the means by which this synod can be assembled with the greatest convenience. Farewell.Your very dear brother in Christ,
Thomas Cranmer

Cranmer’s Martyrdom

On 21 March 1556, Cranmer was burnt at the stake in Oxford, having been found guilty of treason and condemned to death on 13 November 1553, and summarily imprisoned in Bocardo Prison alongside of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, the Oxford Martyrs.

An oil painting of Bocardo Prison in Oxford, England, the place where the Oxford Martyrs, Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer were held captive prior to their execution at the behest of Queen Mary.

In December 1555, the Papacy sent its enunciation on the matter, stripping him of the office of archbishop, and it then deferred to secular authorities to settle the matter of Cranmer’s fate. In an effort to save himself the peril of fire while under torture, Cranmer made four recantations in January and February 1556. Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, was not convinced of Cranmer’s sincerity and apparently neither was Thomas Cranmer, for he repudiated his recantation.

On 21 March 1556, on the day his execution was to be carried, Thomas was asked to make a final and public recantation at the University Church in Oxford. There he stood, gave an expected prayer, and exhortation to obey the King and Queen, and then climatically in a final act of defiance against the Papacy, he renounced his recantation, declaring:

And now I come to the great thing which so much troubleth my conscience, more than any thing that ever I did or said in my whole life, and that is the setting abroad of a writing contrary to the truth, which now here I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be; and that is, all such bills or papers which I have written or signed with my hand since my degradation, wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand hath offended, writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished; for when I come to the fire, it shall first be burned.

And finally, he explained his final position on the Eucharist, “And as for the sacrament, I believe as I have taught in my book against the bishop of Winchester, which my book teacheth so true a doctrine of the sacrament, that it shall stand in the last day before the judgment of God,” and he moved to contradistinguish his view of the Lord’s Supper from that of the Papacy, adding, “where the papistical doctrines contrary thereto shall be ashamed to show their face.” Cranmer as then martyred for his beliefs and his Christian faith.

Engraving of the execution of Thomas Cranmer.

Like the Apostle Simon Peter, Thomas seemed poised to betray his faith amid fear, but then showed great courage and conviction at the end. John Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs gives an account of Cranmer’s last moments during his execution:

With thoughts intent upon a far higher object than the empty threats of man, he reached the spot dyed with the blood of Ridley and Latimer. There he knelt for a short time in earnest devotion, and then arose, that he might undress and prepare for the fire. Two friars who had been parties in prevailing upon him to abjure, now endeavoured to draw him off again from the truth, but he was steadfast and immoveable in what he had just professed, and before publicly taught. A chain was provided to bind him to the stake, and after it had tightly encircled him, fire was put to the fuel, and the flames began soon to ascend. Then were the glorious sentiments of the martyr made manifest; then it was, that stretching out his right hand, he held it unshrinkingly in the fire till it was burnt to a cinder, even before his body was injured, frequently exclaiming, “This unworthy right hand” Apparently insensible of pain, with a countenance of venerable resignation, and eyes directed to Him for whose cause he suffered, he continued, like St. Stephen, to say, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit!” till the fury of the flames terminated his powers of utterance and existence. He closed a life of high sublunary elevation, of constant uneasiness, and of glorious martyrdom, on March 21, 1556.

It was likely Cranmer was coerced to recant in January and February under the pain of torture. Queen Mary had initially hoped for a propaganda victory against Protestantism by republishing the recantations, however, word of Cranmer’s heroic defiance on the day of his execution quickly spread, which served to dissuade the impact of his earlier recantations.

Thomas Cranmer willingly lifted his right hand as he was being executed and cast it into the fire, declaring the hand that wrote recantation of Reformed Truth was “his unworthy right hand.”

In the years that followed, Thomas Cranmer garnered considerable renown not only as an English church reformer, but even among Puritans who respected his efforts, in spite of their general belief that his reforms of the church were not far-reaching enough.

Thomas Cranmer, Stained Glass.

Symmetry in friendships.

The idea of symmetry alludes to a balance or similitude between different sides, while imbalance alludes to an absence of equilibrium. Man’s innate nature is to gravitate towards symmetry in interpersonal relations with other people. Accordingly people tend to “homophily” (or likeminded associations,) and thus they cultivate, form and deepen friendships with people who have a shared cultural, political, and religious background, social class, education, age, etc. If both parties share a comparable background, and nevertheless one party seeks to domineer over the other party, it’s still an imbalanced relationship. As Amos 3:3 says in the Bible, “Can two walk together least they be agreed?” If one party is defined by one set of religious belief, and the other party adheres to another doctrine, should it be surprising that efforts of the non-Christian to continually influence the Christian leads to a rupture? When differences already exist, and then one party seeks to domineer over the other party, the relationship might be aptly viewed as asymmetrical and the potential for destabilizing conflict is thus magnified. If one party has a glaring insecurity, and externalizes it by scoffing at the other party, it leads to asymmetry. The fact too is regardless of trying to persist in paradigms of forgiveness and following the Golden Rule, people tend to remember all the biting condescension, patronizing, rhetorical jabs, and snide remarks, and over time it may culminate in the receiver lashing out at the offending party by way of grievance or just plain spit, fire, and vinegar ire born of frustration.

Amongst the liberal progressive cosmopolitan culture that seemingly extols differences and diversity as an ideological imperative, one should not be fooled as human nature is always at war with their core assumptions. Thus in this paradigm you comprehend a world of condescension, double standards, and pretense that masks inward sentiments. People virtue-signal towards the cultural norms of this paradigm, and yet it becomes a façade.

I find when it comes to having close friendships, and sustaining them, it is true that symmetry is the ideal to strive for. It’s not that one must have a suspension of judgment and view the other person as inherently equal in talents, skills, and competencies. Egalitarian ideology isn’t what I am shooting for here. Rather one needs to dignify the other person as a ‘worthy,’ hence avoid patronizing and condescending attitudes, or externalizing one’s own insecurities onto the other person. At some basic level, one should not countenance inherently imbalanced Platonic friendships.

Asymmetrical relationships may define the relationship of a boss to a subordinate, but that relationship is transactional and contractual; it’s not really rooted in friendship. But can asymmetrical relationships ever bear fruit? Yes, succinctly. Sometimes such bonds forms with mentors and protégés. Other times between husband and wife. Being a traditionalist conservative, I am anything but a Jacobin egalitarian. I accept hierarchy as natural. But one must be careful in recognizing social hierarchy so as to avoid projecting the notion onto your interpersonal relationships as though you’re the King or Duke, and everyone else that comes in your path is the unwashed peasant, or you’ll quickly find yourself devoid of friends and even casual acquaintances.

“Never Give Up” – Inspiring words from the President of the U.S. Donald John Trump

1928 Book of Common Prayer – A Prayer for The President of the U.S., and all in Civil Authority.

A Prayer for The President of the United States,
and all in Civil Authority.


ALMIGHTY God, whose kingdom is everlasting and power infinite; Have mercy upon this whole land; and so rule the hearts of thy servants THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, DONALD JOHN TRUMP, The Governor of this State, Bill Lee, and all others in authority, that they, knowing whose ministers they are, may above all things seek thy honour and glory; and that we and all the People, duly considering whose authority they bear, may faithfully and obediently honour them, according to thy blessed Word and ordinance; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The American age, The American epic, The American adventure has only just begun.

St. John Chrysostom’s Christmas Homily

As we count down the days of Christmas to Epiphany on Wednesday, 6 January 2021, St. John Chrysostom’s “Homily on Christmas Morning” warrants quoting at length:

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.  

For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works. 

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend. 

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature. 

For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker. 

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness. 

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me. 

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels. 

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant¢s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

Syncretism and Idolatry


“The essence of idolatry,” exclaimed A. W. Tozer, “is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.” Samuel Rutherford declared, “Verily, we know not what an evil it is to indulge ourselves, and to make an idol of our will.” The Apostle Paul avowed of the ills of idolatry: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:21-25 ESV)

My Reformation Study Bible (ed. by R.C. Sproul, Sr.) contains an interesting side note entitled “Syncretism and Idolatry” (p. 1362). Theopedia defines ‘syncretism’ as “Syncretism is the attempt to reconcile disparate, even opposing, beliefs and to meld practices of various schools of thought.” Erasmus probably coined the modern usage of the Latin term of which the English term syncretism is derivative in his Adagia (“Adages”), published in the winter of 1517–1518. The RSB notes:

Though there is only one God and only one true faith, that taught in the Bible, the apostate world (Rom. 1:18-25) has always been full of religions. The age-old urge toward syncretism (the assimilation of one’s religion’s beliefs and practices) is still with us. Indeed, it has been revived in our time through renewed attempts to unify all religions and through persistent amalgams of Eastern and Western ideas that rise and fall in popularity.

The pressure to compromise is not new. After entering Canaan, Israel was constantly tempted to absorb into the worship of Yahweh the Canaanite worship of fertility gods and goddesses, if not to make images of Yahweh himself—both practices forbidden in the law (Ex. 20:3-6). The spiritual issue was whether Israel would remember that the covenant God was all-sufficient for them and that He claimed their exclusive allegiance, making the worship of other gods a spiritual adultery (Jer. 3; Ezek. 16; Hos. 2). This was a test the nation often failed.

Syncretism was widespread in the Roman Empire during the first centuries of Christianity. Polytheism was rife and all manner of mystery cults flourished. Early Christian teachers diligently to keep the faith from being assimilated to Gnosticism, a kind of theosophy that had no use for Christ’s Incarnation and Atonement, since it saw the root problem of man as ignorance rather than sin. Neoplatonism and Manichaeism also saw the way of salvation mainly as a matter of ascetical detachment and escape from the physical world. Christian resistance to these movements was successful, and the classic formulations of the Trinity and the Incarnation in the creeds are a permanent legacy of these struggles.

Scripture condemns all idolatry as evil. Idols are mocked as delusive non-entities (Ps. 115:4-7; Is. 44:9-20), but they nevertheless enslave their worshipers in blind superstition (Is. 44:20). Paul adds that demons operate through idols, making them a spiritual menace (1 Cor. 8:4-6; 10:19-21). Biblical warnings against idolatry (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:14; 1 John 5:19-21) need to be taken to heart in the post-Christian Western culture, which is prepared to fill the spiritual vacuum that people feel by embracing religious syncretism, witchcraft, and experiments with the occult.

I find this highly relevant at a time when it’s become popular to amalgamate New Age and Eastern spirituality with Christianity. I want no part of idolatry nor syncretism. I believe in the all-sufficiency of Scriptures, and do not seek to incorporate elements of divergent creeds, religions, nor New Age beliefs, practices, nor religious elements into my adherence of biblical Christianity. The predicament in this day and age is we often run into people who embrace the temptation to syncretism. My desire is to embrace an orthodox (i.e., “right-believing”) Christianity through the lens of the early Christian formularies, such as the Nicene Creed and the early ecumenical councils. Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Confessional Protestants share these creeds in common.

Christmas brings the Miracle of Christ’s Incarnation to Center Stage

“For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality.”

—St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

“Have this mind among yourselves,” avowed Saint Paul, “which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians, 2:5–7). Anglican C.S. Lewis placed enormous weight on the significance of Christ’s Incarnation and wrote about it on a number of occasions. In and through the miraculous incarnation, the divine nature of the Son was perfectly united with human nature in one divine Person. This person, Jesus Christ, was both “truly God and truly man.” In Mere Christianity, Lewis observed: “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.“1 Accordingly “[t]he central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation.” In the book Miracles, Lewis further explained:

They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. There is no question in Christianity of arbitrary interferences just scattered about. It relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion—an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.” The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depends on their relation to the Grand Miracle; all discussion of them in isolation from it is futile…
In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity. . . But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him. . . .2

J.I. Packer, a protégé and admirer of Lewis, states that “the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us” lies in “the Christmas message of incarnation.” He explained: One of Lewis’s admirers, theologian J.I. Packer, says that “the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us” lies in “the Christmas message of incarnation.” He explained:

The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man—that the second person of the Godhead became the “second man” …, determining human destiny,… and that He took humanity without loss of deity…3

C.S. Lewis said of the miracle of the Incarnation:

“Something really new did happen at Bethlehem: not an interpretation but an event. God became Man. On the other hand there must be a sense in which God, being outside time, is changeless and nothing ever ‘happens’ to Him. I think I should reply that the event at Bethlehem was a novelty, a change to the maximum extent to which any event is a novelty or change: but that all time and all events in it, if we could see them all at once and fully understand them, are a definition or diagram of what God eternally is. But that is quite different from saying that the incarnation was simply an interpretation, or a change in our knowledge. When Pythagoras discovered that the square on the hypotenuse was equal to the sum of the squares on the other sides he was discovering what had been just as true the day before though no one knew it. But in 50 B.C. the proposition ‘God is Man’ would not have been true in the same sense in which it was true in 10 A.D. because though the union of God and Man in Christ is a timeless fact, in 50 B.C. we hadn’t yet got to that bit of time which defines it.”4 

As we worship the triune God, and reflect upon the miracle of the Incarnation this Christmas season, it is a most momentous occasion to reflect upon the one who descended from Heaven to become one of us, for our salvation, and for His eternal glory. As Paul said, “”Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Timothy 1:15-17). Ligonier Ministries describes the miraculous consequence of the Incarnation and the world it made possible:

“Paul gives us some of the most profound reflections on the incarnation in the entire New Testament. Philippians 2:5–11 tells us that the Son of God did not consider His equality with God as something to be used solely for His own advantage at the expense of others; instead, He voluntarily condescended and took the form of a servant and became “obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (v. 8). In this condescension, our Savior did not surrender any divine attributes such as omniscience or omnipotence, though He did veil His glory. Without giving up His glory, He chose not to fully manifest it to all who saw Him as He walked the earth. But this veiling was only temporary. On account of His work, God exalted the God-man Christ Jesus, rewarding Him for His obedience and revealing Him as the source of eternal salvation for all who believe (vv. 9–11).”

1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Touchstone, 1996), p. 155.
2 C.S. Lewis, Miracles (Touchstone, 1996), pp. 143, 147-148.
3 J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 45-46. 4  C.S. Lewis, The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves

The Nativity of our Lord; the Christmas Liturgy of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer

The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birth-day of Christ commonly called Christmas Day, December 25.

The Collect

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin: Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Isaiah 9:1-8

Morning, First Lesson

Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.

For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.


Luke 2:1-15

Morning, Second Lesson

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

Isaiah 7:10-17

Evening, First Lesson

10 Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying,

11 Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.

12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.

13 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?

14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.

16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.

17 The Lord shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.

Titus 3:4-9

Evening, Second Lesson

But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;

That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.

But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.


A Review of the Benedict Option.

A Review of Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York, NY: Sentinel, 2017) by Ryan Setliff.

[originally published on November 2018]

Here’s the Cliff Notes’ version of the Benedict Option; in case you missed the apologetic for the monastic trap; simply put, it’s a failed strategy of attrition in the cultural war when the only viable alternative is an insurgent strategy.

In allusion to the science-fiction protagonist Hari Seldon in the Issac Asimov novel Foundation who tries to rescue a future fictional galactic empire by chartering an intellectual redoubt of knowledge and wisdom, author Rod Dreher sees himself as a guru trying to head off the decline of Christian culture in an essentially a post-Christian era by creating monastic silos. That he means well is admitted. That he has just cause for alarm is granted. But his tactics are ultimately amiss.

Polemical critiques of this book shouldn’t be conflated to be simply an issue of Western Christianity versus Dreher’s Orthodoxy. There’s room for even the Protestant and Catholic to appropriate the hypothesis as Dreher doesn’t narrow the communions that may embrace his “option” to just his newly adopted Orthodox communion.

There’s little reason to dispute Dreher’s claim that the Religious Right in the United States have engaged in a false triumphalism to speak of a ‘Moral Majority.’ The demographic transformation of the country over the last four years have done little to increase Christianity’s fortunes. The continual militant secularization of the academy has played a big part of the incremental secularization and dechristianization of America as secular humanism grips the thoughts of intellectuals. The broken families and social pathologies endemic in the United States manifest an obvious problem of America’s Sexual Revolution as four out of ten children are born out of wedlock nowadays.

While Christian conservatives may sympathize with Rod Dreher’s desire to see Christianity flourish once more, his prescription is woefully misguided. It has elicited criticisms from across Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant communions. What Dreher sees in monastic life carries a certain air of practical gnosticism and resignation to the world. The danger of ensconce in a cloister is that Christians become dominated by the barbarians who may not afford our little cloister the autonomy and freedom it needs. The militant secularization and mandated state secular humanist educational models of Sweden and Germany tend to point to the futility of such defeatism. He counsels Christians to build an “ark” and eschew “unwinnable political battles.” It’s the proverbial Ostrich in the sand strategy, one destined to fail, and one that should elicit refutation given the seriousness of what’s at stake.

One can only imagine the man (or perhaps his posterity) who takes the Benedict Option seriously eventually emerging from his cocoon like Charlton Heston’s character in The Planet of the Apes to survey a future wasteland devoid of humanity and feeling the compulsion to curse the very humanity that destroyed itself. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned in The Cost of Discipleship, the Christian must accept the reality that his prayer cloister is merely but part of the world. One cannot be salt and light in a dark cloister.

Dreher could contend he’s misunderstood or offers nuance as he proposes reengaging secular culture, but his tactics are fundamentally rooted in separation―a spiritual apartheid.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: A World Split Apart

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: A World Split Apart

An Address To The Faculty and Students of Harvard University, delivered 8 June 1978, Harvard University.

“I am sincerely happy to be here on the occasion of the 327th commencement of this old and most prestigious university. My congratulations and very best wishes to all of today’s graduates.

Harvard’s motto is “VERITAS.” Many of you have already found out, and others will find out in the course of their lives, that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate our attention totally on it’s pursuit. But even while it eludes us, the illusion of knowing it still lingers and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth seldom is pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter. There is some bitterness in my today’s speech too, but I want to stress that it comes not from an adversary, but from a friend.

Three years ago in the United States I said certain things which at that time appeared unacceptable. Today, however, many people agree with what I then said.

The split in today’s world is perceptible even to a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries readily identifies two world powers, each of them already capable of entirely destroying the other. However, understanding of the split often is limited to this political conception: that danger may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations or by achieving a balance of armed forces. The truth is that the split is a much [more] profound [one] and a more alienating one, that the rifts are more than one can see at first glance. This deep manifold split bears the danger of manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that a kingdom — in this case, our Earth — divided against itself cannot stand.

There is the concept of “Third World”: thus, we already have three worlds. Undoubtedly, however, the number is even greater; we are just too far away to see. Any ancient and deeply rooted, autonomous culture, especially if it is spread on a wide part of the earth’s surface, constitutes an autonomous world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking. As a minimum, we must include in this category China, India, the Muslim world, and Africa, if indeed we accept the approximation of viewing the latter two as compact units.

For one thousand years Russia belonged to such a category, although Western thinking systematically committed the mistake of denying its autonomous character and therefore never understood it, just as today the West does not understand Russia in Communist captivity. It may be that in past years Japan has increasingly become a distant part of the West. I am no judge here. But as to Israel, for instance, it seems to me that it’s been the part from the western world, in that its state system is fundamentally linked to religion.

How short a time ago, relatively, the small, new European world was easily seizing colonies everywhere, not only without anticipating any real resistance, but also usually despising any possible values in the conquered people’s approach to life. On the face of it, it was an overwhelming success. There were no geographic frontiers [limits] to it. Western society expanded in a triumph of human independence and power. And all of a sudden in the 20th century came the discovery of its fragility and friability.

We now see that the conquests proved to be short lived and precarious — and this, in turn, points to defects in the Western view of the world which led to these conquests. Relations with the former colonial world now have turned into their opposite and the Western world often goes to extremes of subservience, but it is difficult yet to estimate the total size of the bill which former colonial countries will present to the West and it is difficult to predict whether the surrender not only of its last colonies, but of everything it owns, will be sufficient for the West to foot the bill.

But the blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that the vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems, which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented (by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension) from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction.

However, it is a conception which develops out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development is quite different and which about our divided world gave birth to the theory of convergence between leading Western countries and the Soviet Union. It is a soothing theory which overlooks the fact that these worlds are not at all developing into similarity. Neither one can be transformed into the other without the use of violence. Besides, convergence inevitably means acceptance of the other side’s defects, too, and this is hardly desirable.

If I were today addressing an audience in my country, examining the overall pattern of the world’s rifts, I would have concentrated on the East’s calamities. But since my forced exile in the West has now lasted four years and since my audience is a Western one, I think it may be of greater interest to concentrate on certain aspects of the West, in our days, such as I see them.

A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course, there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.

Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable, as well as intellectually and even morally worn it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and with countries not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Should one point out that from ancient times declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?

When the modern Western states were created, the principle was proclaimed that governments are meant to serve man and man lives to be free and to pursue happiness. See, for example, the American Declaration of Independence. Now, at last, during past decades technical and social progress has permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state.

Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness — in the morally inferior sense of the word which has come into being during those same decades. In the process, however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to attain them imprint many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense competition fills all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development.

The individual’s independence from many types of state pressure has been guaranteed. The majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about. It has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, leaving them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money, and leisure, to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment. So who should now renounce all this? Why? And for what should one risk one’s precious life in defense of common values and particularly in such nebulous cases when the security of one’s nation must be defended in a distant country? Even biology knows that habitual, extreme safety and well-being are not advantageous for a living organism. Today, well-being in the life of Western society has begun to reveal its pernicious mask.

Western society has given itself the organization best suited to its purposes based, I would say, one the letter of the law. The limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in interpreting and manipulating law. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required. Nobody will mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk. It would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames.

I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale than the legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses. And it will be simply impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.

In today’s Western society the inequality has been revealed [in] freedom for good deeds and freedom for evil deeds. A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly. There are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him; parliament and the press keep rebuffing him. As he moves ahead, he has to prove that each single step of his is well-founded and absolutely flawless. Actually, an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself. From the very beginning, dozens of traps will be set out for him. Thus, mediocrity triumphs with the excuse of restrictions imposed by democracy.

It is feasible and easy everywhere to undermine administrative power and in fact it has been drastically weakened in all Western countries. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It’s time, in the West — It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.

And what shall we say criminality as such? Legal frames, especially in the United States, are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also certain individual crimes. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency with the support of thousands of public defenders. When a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorist’s civil rights. There are many such cases.

Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil has come about gradually, but it was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature. The world belongs to mankind and all the defects of life are caused by wrong social systems, which must be corrected. Strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still is criminality and there even is considerably more of it than in the pauper and lawless Soviet society.

The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media.) But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?

Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no true moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to his readers, or to his history — or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? It hardly ever happens because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist usually always gets away with it. One may — One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.

Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none — and none of them will ever be rectified; they will stay on in the readers’ memories. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press — The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters  pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it’s a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.] A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.

Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislative power, the executive, and the judiciary. And one would then like to ask: By what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the communist East a journalist is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has granted Western journalists their power, for how long a time, and with what prerogatives?

There is yet another surprise for someone coming from the East, where the press is rigorously unified. One gradually discovers a common trend of preferences within the Western press as a whole. It is a fashion; there are generally accepted patterns of judgment; there may be common corporate interests, the sum effect being not competition but unification. Enormous freedom exists for the press, but not for the readership because newspaper[s] mostly develop stress and emphasis to those opinions which do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend.

Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to flock together and shut off successful development. I have received letters in America from highly intelligent persons, maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but his country cannot hear him because the media are not interested in him. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, to blindness, which is most dangerous in our dynamic era. There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of a petrified armor around people’s minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.

I have mentioned a few traits of Western life which surprise and shock a new arrival to this world. The purpose and scope of this speech will not allow me to continue such a review, to look into the influence of these Western characteristics on important aspects of a nation’s life, such as elementary education, advanced education in the humanities and art.

It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development, even though in the past years it has been strongly disturbed by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.

I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system to present socialism as an alternative. Having experienced — Having experienced applied socialism in a country where the alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. Shafarevich’s book was published in France — Shafarevich’s book was published in France almost two years ago and so far no one has been found to refute it. It will shortly be published in the United States.

But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just mentioned are extremely saddening.

A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger — 60 years for our people and 30 years for the people of Eastern Europe. During that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. Life’s complexity and mortal weight have produced stronger, deeper, and more interesting characters than those generally

[produced]

by standardized Western well-being.

Therefore, if our society were to be transformed into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change for the worse on some particularly significant scores. It is true, no doubt, that a society cannot remain in an abyss of lawlessness, as is the case in our country. But it is also demeaning for it to elect such mechanical legalistic smoothness as you have. After the suffering of many years of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.

There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.

But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their offensive; you can feel their pressure, and yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?

Very well known representatives of your society, such as George Kennan, say: We cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus, we mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against communism’s well planned world strategy. There are no other criteria. Practical or occasional considerations of any kind will inevitably be swept away by strategy. After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the size and meaning of events.

In spite of the abundance of information, or maybe because of it, the West has difficulties in understanding reality such as it is. There have been naive predictions by some American experts who believed that Angola would become the Soviet Union’s Vietnam or that Cuban expeditions in Africa would best be stopped by special U.S. courtesy to Cuba. Kennan’s advice to his own country — to begin unilateral disarmament — belongs to the same category. If you only knew how the youngest of the Kremlin officials laugh at your political wizards. As to Fidel Castro, he frankly scorns the United States, sending his troops to distant adventures from his country right next to yours.

However, the most cruel mistake occurred with the failure to understand the Vietnam war. Some people sincerely wanted all wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that there should be room for national, or communist, self-determination in Vietnam, or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular clarity. But members of the U.S. anti-war movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there? Do they understand their responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear?

The American Intelligentsia lost its nerve and as a consequence thereof danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is no awareness of this. Your shortsighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing pause; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms over you. That small Vietnam had been a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation’s courage. But if a full-fledged America suffered a real defeat from a small communist half-country, how can the West hope to stand firm in the future?

I have had occasion already to say that in the 20th century Western democracy has not won any major war without help and protection from a powerful continental ally whose philosophy and ideology it did not question. In World War II against Hitler, instead of winning that war with its own forces, which would certainly have been sufficient, Western democracy grew and cultivated another enemy who would prove worse, as Hitler never had so many resources and so many people, nor did he offer any attractive ideas, or have a large number of supporters in the West as the Soviet Union. At present, some Western voices already have spoken of obtaining protection from a third power against aggression in the next world conflict, if there is one. In this case the shield would be China. But I would not wish such an outcome to any country in the world. First of all, it is again a doomed alliance with Evil; also, it would grant the United States a respite, but when at a later date China with its billion people would turn around armed with American weapons, America itself would fall prey to a genocide similar to the in Cambodia in our days.

And yet — no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time, and betrayal. Thus at the shameful Belgrade conference free Western diplomats in their weakness surrendered the line where enslaved members of Helsinki Watchgroups are sacrificing their lives.

Western thinking has become conservative: the world situation should stay as it is at any cost; there should be no changes. This debilitating dream of a status quo is the symptom of a society which has come to the end of its development. But one must be blind in order not to see that oceans no longer belong to the West, while land under its domination keeps shrinking. The two so-called world wars (they were by far not on a world scale, not yet) have meant internal self-destruction of the small, progressive West which has thus prepared its own end. The next war (which does not have to be an atomic one and I do not believe it will) may well bury Western civilization forever.

Facing such a danger, with such splendid historical values in your past, at such a high level of realization of freedom and of devotion to freedom, how is it possible to lose to such an extent the will to defend oneself?

How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.

This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.

The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man’s physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow. Merely freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.

However, in early democracies, as in the American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were — State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the 20th century’s moral poverty which no one could imagine even as late as in the 19th Century.

As humanism in its development became more and more materialistic, it made itself increasingly accessible to speculation and manipulation by socialism and then by communism. So that Karl Marx was able to say that “communism is naturalized humanism.”

This statement turned out not to be entirely senseless. One does see the same stones in the foundations of a despiritualized humanism and of any type of socialism: endless materialism; freedom from religion and religious responsibility, which under communist regimes reach the stage of anti-religious dictatorships; concentration on social structures with a seemingly scientific approach. This is typical of the Enlightenment in the 18th Century and of Marxism. Not by coincidence all of communism’s meaningless pledges and oaths are about Man, with a capital M, and his earthly happiness. At first glance it seems an ugly parallel: common traits in the thinking and way of life of today’s West and today’s East? But such is the logic of materialistic development.

The interrelationship is such, too, that the current of materialism which is most to the left always ends up by being stronger, more attractive, and victorious, because it is more consistent. Humanism without its Christian heritage cannot resist such competition. We watch this process in the past centuries and especially in the past decades, on a world scale as the situation becomes increasingly dramatic. Liberalism was inevitably displaced by radicalism; radicalism had to surrender to socialism; and socialism could never resist communism.1 The communist regime in the East could stand and grow due to the enthusiastic support from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who felt a kinship and refused to see communism’s crimes. And when they no longer could do so, they tried to justify them. In our Eastern countries, communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. But Western intellectuals still look at it with interest and with empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East.

I am not examining here the case of a world war disaster and the changes which it would produce in society. As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.

To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging everything on earth — imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible — The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President’s performance be reduced to the question how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.

It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us completely helpless in front of the trials of our times. Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?

If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: We shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.

This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.