So, it really started to hit me, what I’m doing, when I started packing away my icons. It’s extremely hard to do, to be separated from them. It’s exactly like packing away the family pictures. And with it comes a flood of emotion that I’ve been forcefully avoiding. For more than half my life I’ve lived here in Berkeley, almost all of that time in this same room in the same house. I’ve been brutal in throwing away nostalgic items that I’ll simply have no room for: little knick-knacks, trinkets, ephemera. In this there is an element of cleansing, but also, it seems, a slightly inhuman and ungrateful devaluation of the past. We are who we are made by our experiences, for better or worse. Now I’ll be lacking some physical reminders of those influences. Having a peculiar memory, whole periods of my life and groups of friends long scattered to the winds are called to mind by a bookmark, a coaster, a ticket, and so on. I’m mixed in my evaluation of this. I realize it’s natural, and appreciate the friendships and the postive (and even some of the negative) experiences that have contributed toward who I am now, but too much focus on them is a distraction, too much a thing of looking over one’s shoulder rather than watching where you’re going. This, I think, is a fine example demonstrating why the neptic Fathers warn against nostalgia. I can also, because of this experience, see the reason to warn against posessions. This is an educational experience.
My dear Wormwood,
…About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything–even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that ‘only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations’. You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game,
Your affectionate uncle,
The quotation “Only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations” is from Reinhold Niebuhr’s An Interpretation of Christian Ethics (Harper & Bros, 1934). The work is, of course, noxious, but undoubtedly still popular in some circles. Unfortunately there’s much more; it reads like a charicature, really. But I do wonder if Niebuhr ever learned of this quotation having been placed by Lewis, entirely appropriately, in the mouth of a demon. Such a fitting antitribute! Lewis managed to peg Niebuhr, in this case, as one batting for t’other team.
Know your enemy!
My dear Wormwood,
. . . Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating the Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the ‘present state of the question’. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important that to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. But thanks be to Our Father and the Historical Point of View, great scholars are now as little nourished by the past as the most ignoble mechanic who holds that ‘history is bunk’,Your affectionate uncle,
Though Lewis’ Screwtape Letters are fictional and rather humorous, there is nothing funny about the bodiless powers’ antagonism to anything good, particularly in relation to humanity, and about their panoply of ways to turn men from God and their only redemption. Rather than depicting such creatures in our imaginations as bumbling and malicious relatives, we must rather understand them as cold, hard, intelligences, unaffected by emotion and bodily drives, but animated by sheer hatred for us. They don’t just want our suffering, they want a dehumanizing humiliation that ends solely in putrefaction, a complete removal of every one us from anything remotely reminiscent of the Image of God. Some of our own kind have been only too willing to cooperate throughout the ages, but it gains them nothing.
Know your enemy.
It has come to this. Again the devil openly shows his contempt for human dignity, as usual, and for reason, for holiness and goodness and humility, this time through the ravings of a willing tool, the dead Cho boy. The Enemy’s contempt blazes its darkness throughout them like some vast black star. It’s terrifying. Yet the ignorant press buys into it wholesale as willing participants, indeed collaborators. The evil one knew perfectly well that they would publish what they received, as he and his legions have been so successful in their alterations to our societies, it was a foregone conclusion that these pawns would lack the decency to withhold the materials. Now he just plays with them. Collaborators with the devil. Lord have mercy.
Know your enemy.
If a man is entangled in the things of this world, caught by their many shackles, and seduced by the evil passions, it is very hard for him to recognize that there is another invisible struggle and another inner warfare. But, after detaching himself from all visible things and worldly pleasures, and beginning to serve God, he then becomes capable of recognizing the nature of this inner struggle and unseen warfare against the passions. Yet, as we said, unless he first achieves outward detachment by aspiring to serve God totally with his whole soul, he will not recognize the secret passions of evil and his inner fetters. On the contrary, he will be in danger of thinking that he is healthy and not ailing, when in fact he is full of wounds and nourishes unseen passions. But if he has despised desire and glory, he may first become aware of these inner passions and then fight against them, calling on Christ with faith and receiving from heaven the weapons of the Spirit: the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit.
The devil tries to disrupt our hope in Christ and our love of Him in a thousand ways. Inwardly he brings afflictions on the soul by means of evil spirits, or he fills it with foul and immoral thoughts by stirring up its memory of former sins, so as to make it grow sluggish and to despair of ever attaining salvation. His aim is to cheat the soul into thinking that it generates these thoughts of its own accord and that they are not sown in it maliciously by an alien spirit. Or else he inflicts bodily suffering and brings on us vilification and tribulation through the agency of other people. But the more he shoots his fiery arrows at us, the more we must enkindle our hope in God, knowing with certainty that He deliberately permits souls that long for Him to suffer these things, so as to discover if they truly love Him.
St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, quoting St. Makarios of Egypt, Philokalia volume 3, pp 351-2; translated and edited by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and [Bishop] Kallistos Ware (Faber & Faber, 1984)
The previous post brought to mind the importance of keeping in mind and realizing, that is making actual in one’s life, spiritual warfare. The war against our own sins is directly a part of that wider battle against the bodiless powers of the evil one and his minions, as St. Makarios reminds us above. That is, this warfare is against an entire continuum with which we are intimately familiar, for our spiritual faults belong to it, as part of the spiritual problems of our sins: giving in to lust, arrogance, anger, despair, and so on, is giving in to the evil one inch by inch. And what does he want? For you to end in the most dehumanized, deintellectualized, humiliated, polluted, and putrefying way possible, as far from the purity and eternity and glory of the Spirit of Holiness as possible, as far from the image of God that he can entice you and you will follow. It starts simply, with perhaps merely the bite of a fruit, and ends with the entire world aflame!
It is SO VERY EASY being involved in Biblical Studies, with all its arcana, the technical work of textual, lexical, grammatical, and historical issues, so bookish, so secular and staid and established, to forget the living faith, the dangerously vivid faith of the prophets that produced these texts, that faith that a number of us ostensibly belong to still. There is the tutting over “supernaturalism,” against “faith-based [insert noun],” the separation of the church of one’s faith from the state of one’s studies. All of these play a part in distancing one from personal responsibility for one’s own spiritual battle, or for helping others to realize that there even is such a thing, much less helping them in their own battles. So one thus forgets or even denies that there is a cold, calculating, purely anti-human intelligence, so simple, so banal, so settled in his perfectly effective and efficient soul-destroying ways, the conductor on the train of damnation, who only ever repeats, “Ticket, please,” punches it and moves on to the next victim. “Ticket, please.” He has his routine and it works perfectly in such a world of such people, supported by those who should know better, who would deny his existence through textual studies, a help which I’m sure he appreciates.
Be aware, always. Be on guard. The enemy is everywhere. Pull out by the roots whatever hold the evil one has in you, and do everything you can to help others to do so in their lives, too. For that is what it is to be truly human, as created, in the image of God.
Q: How does the Devil go about seducing men and women?
AMORTH: His strategy is monotonous. I have told him so and he admits it. He convinces people that there is no hell, that there is no sin, just one more experience to live. Lust, success and power are the three great passions on which the Devil insists.
Q: Are you ever afraid of the Devil?
AMORTH: Afraid of that beast? He’s the one who should be afraid of me because I work in the name of the Lord of the world. He is only an ape of God.
Read the full interview with Father Gabriele Amorth, and remember him and all those on the front lines of the war against the evil one in your prayers.