In my most recent posting, I mentioned the pseudo-revelations given to Melanie Calvet, one of the seers of the reported vision of Our Lady at LaSalette in France on September 19, 1846. I mentioned that the local bishop, Philibert de Bruillard, did a careful investigation of the children and their story and in 1851, after submitting the details of the vision to a commission of distinguished theologians, announced that the children’s stories were most likely true and permitted a cult to Our Lady of La Salette. Later that same year, Pope Pius IX approved of devotion to Our Lady of LaSalette. The revelations reported at that time by Melanie Calvet and her fellow seer, Maximin Giraud, are well within the realm of orthodoxy. The problem is that Melanie seems to have been a very troubled individual and as the years passed she kept adding to the “revelations.” These additions not only were not approved by Church authorities, but in fact ended up being condemned by the Holy See. The condemnations were not without some self-interest on the part of Church authorities as they tended to be increasingly anti-clerical and undermine the authority of the hierarchy. But they also tended to reflect the anti-Semitic and monarchist views of the French political right wing of the late 19th century. Nevertheless, they have enjoyed a certain popularity in certain Catholic circles and especially since the Second Vatican Council have been used to “prove” the “disastrous” course the Church has taken with the Council’s program of reform and renewal in the Church.
It might be interesting to take a bit of a retrospective on the reform of the Church over the last fifty years, but for this posting what I want to consider is the question: why does the apocalyptic view of history which is represented by Calvet’s revelations have such a hold over certain Catholics?
What do I mean by “apocalyptic view of history”? There is a theme that emerges in Calvet’s alleged revelations that God is angry with the world for its abandonment to sin and, were it not for the Blessed Virgin Mary holding back his divine wrath, would destroy the world. This theme is by no means limited to Calvet but has been extremely popular in many circles through the 20th century and still surfaces among certain factions and to advance certain agenda—particularly those of a rigid and unexamined moralist cast that sees not only the world but often the Church in apostasy. This later idea that the Church is in apostasy is the basis of the sede-vacantist claim that popes since the Second Vatican Council are not legitimate and this claim of the Church falling into apostasy, or the threat of it falling into apostasy, has found a new audience in those alarmed by the direction of the Church under Pope Francis. I have, in my previous posting, referred to one blog that consistently refers to Melanie Calvet’s ramblings to attack the papacy of Pope Francis.
How can the problem of the Divine Wrath be stated in a way consistent with sound Catholic theology? Again, I am a historian and not a theologian but the danger in this sort of apocalyptic view of history is the denial of the efficacy of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. This view of God, ready and anxious to inflict punishment on the world for its sinfulness, implies that the redeeming sacrifice of Christ at Calvary has not, in fact, been sufficient atonement for human sinfulness and that God’s patience is thus worn out again and he is about to wreak retribution on the world for unatoned sins. On the other hand, we need to take off the rose colored glasses of our post-modern world and acknowledge the serious moral crisis our world is in.
When I say that our world is in serious moral crisis I am not limiting this to the effects of the sexual revolution as do most of those who are fascinated by the idea of an impending divine punishment. I do believe, however, that we must reestablish for ourselves a sound standard of private moral behavior. I do not think this is a simple task. There are serious moral issues that need to be looked at today and given a thorough moral re-evaluation. The breakdown of the family threatens the fabric of society itself. We need to look and see why marriage is no longer a stable institution. We need to look and examine the consequences of raising children outside the family structure. What are the consequences of divorce for the raising of children? Why is commitment seemingly beyond the capacity of so many in our society? We need to look at contraception and evaluate its effects on the family and on the larger levels of society. We need to ask ourselves if contraception has broken the link between sexual intimacy and marriage, thus removing commitment from the equation of intimacy. We need to ask serious questions about whether pre-marital sexual relations trivialize sexual intimacy in such ways that it has negative consequences for the ability of people to seriously bond. We need to look and see if children can be healthily raised in families by same-sex couples. We need to look scientifically at same-sex attraction and let our moral understanding of same-sex relationships be shaped by scientific facts beyond cultural prejudices. These are not simple questions with simplistic answers and they need serious re-thinking from scientific, philosophic, theological and sociological perspectives. But private morality is only one aspect of today’s moral crisis. We need to look at the pervasiveness of violence in our society—in our entertainment, in the entertainment of our children, in music, film, video games, literature. We need to look at how our culture addicts so many to anger and its manifestations. We need to address corporate greed, the disparity of wealth, and the systemization of a permanent under-class. We need to look at the collapse of political discourse and the factionalization of our society along socio-political lines. We need to look at the morality of capital punishment, the prison system, and mania for litigation in our society. We need to look and see why our medical expenses have gotten out of control and put good medical care beyond the ability of the poor and the elderly. We need to look and see how our economic system is responsible for so much suffering in developing countries. We need to take responsibility for racism which still thrives in our society. We need to look at why women do not have equal pay for equal work or why they still have to suffer harassment in corporate and academic life. We need to look at violence against women and children—and sometimes men. We need to look and see why higher education is not possible for talented young people who do not have the financial resources. We need to see why child labor is still a common practice in much of our world. We need to seriously address the issue of human trafficking.
I could, of course, go on. But suffice it to say that there is much reason for God to be angry with us if it were compatible for the Divine Nature to be angry in the same way that we are angry. But in fact, Christ has redeemed the world. God does not wish to destroy the world, but that it be saved—that is, that the redemption paid for by Christ on the Cross be appropriated by each and every human person in a choice to live justly and in charity towards all. But the image of an angry God is a popular one in certain circles because it justifies the anger of those who believe in an angry God. Rousseau claimed that “God created man in his own image and man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment.” Our theology can, if carefully examined, tell us much about our anthropology. For those who are ruled by anger, nothing is as validating as an angry God. On the other hand, if God is merciful, we must be merciful. If God is reconciling, then we must be people who forgive. If God is compassionate than we must be compassionate. All of that can be extremely threatening if I am not willing to let go of my anger, if I do not wish to be merciful; if I do not want to let go of my grudges and forgive; if I am unwilling to pay the price that being compassionate will demand. Unfortunately our theology does not shape our anthropology but we permit our anthropology to shape our theology. Now, that is something that God could get angry about. If it were his nature to be angry.