Thursday, December 23, 2004

Back to the Future

Been reading some Catholic writings with regard to the end of history lately. Here are two interesting pieces. The first is from Bishop Christianos Agreda, who lived in the 12th Century:
"In the 20th century France's union with England will prove to be her utter destruction: for there will be great shedding of blood by the people of the kingdom. There will be wars and fury that will last a long time; whole provinces shall be emptied of their inhabitants, and kingdoms shall be thrown into confusion; many strongholds and noble houses shall be destroyed and their cities and towns shall be forsaken of their inhabitants; in divers places the ground shall be left untilled, and there shall be great slaughters of the upper class; their sun shall be darkened and never shine again, for France shall be desolate and her leader destroyed. There shall be great mutations and changes of kings and rulers for the right hand of the world shall fear the left, and the north shall prevail over the south."
This sounds a lot like France in the 20th Century, particularly World War I and World War II, a period of global conflict spanning some 31 years. ("There will be wars and fury that will last a long time.") Certainly the ground near the trenches and no-man's land was left untilled. That same period saw the destruction of the Hohenzollerns, the Hapsburgs, and the Romanovs; political upheavals and turmoil rent the continent. ("kingdoms shall be thrown into confusion . . . There shall be great mutations and changes of kings and rulers . . . "). "[T]here shall be great slaughters of the upper class; their sun shall be darkened and never shine again. . . ." France alone lost some 1.3 million men in World War I, many of them from the upper-classes. Western civilization, the ward of those classes, threw itself into a mire of self-loathing evidenced by this poem of Ezra Pound: "There died a myriad / And of the best, among them / For an old bitch gone in the teeth / For a botched civilization . . . ." Afterwards, the right and left hands of the earth feared one another (West vs. East?), "and the north shall prevail over the south." With respect to the world, this suggests the north/south hemispherical economic divide and, with particular regard to France, it's interesting that the traitorous Vichy regime, defeated by the Allies and Free French, was in the south of the country.

Even more interesting is this writing of St. Nilus (d. 430), a student of Chrysostom:
"After the year 1900, toward the middle of the 20th century, the people of that time will become unrecognisable. When the time for the Advent of the Antichrist approaches, peoples minds will grow cloudy from carnal passions, and dishonour and lawlessness will grow stronger. Then the world will become unrecognisable. Peoples appearances will change, and it will be impossible to distinguish men from women due to there shamelessness in dress and style of hair. These people will be cruel and will be like wild animals because of the temptations of the Antichrist. There will be no respect for parents or elders, love will disappear, and Christian pastors, bishops, and priests will become vain men, completely failing to distinguish the right hand way from the left. At that time the morals and traditions of Christians and the Church will change. People will abandon modesty, and dissipation will reign. Falsehood and greed will attain great proportions, and woe to those who pile up treasures. Lust, adultery, homosexuality, secret deeds and murder will rule in society."
Fair enough, perhaps, although it could stand fairly well as a description of life in some European and Byzantine courts over the (next? past?) thousand years. But St. Nilus adds a few details that can raise your hair, such as how at the advent of the Antichrist "men will . . . fly through the air like birds and descend to the bottom of the sea like fish." Moreover, the devil will also "give depraved wisdom to an unhappy man so that he will discover a way by which one man can carry on a conversation with another from one end of the earth to the other." (So no, don't call your mom and warn her about this). And when, the Saint tells us, we have achieved all this, "these unhappy people spend their lives in comfort without knowing, poor souls, that it is deceit of the Antichrist."

Having a different (unrecognizable?) cultural/historical perspective means I quarrel a bit with St. Nilus' apparent identification of evil as technology, but you can't argue with the wisdom of his judgment that the Antichrist will "so complete science with vanity that it will go off the right path and lead people to lose faith in the existence of God in three hypostases (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)." Science leading people to lose faith in the existence of God? Been there, done that. And completing science with vanity sounds right up the genetic-playboy's alley -- for isn't the most alluring promise of genetic engineering the creation of beautiful people, immortal sexual playmates, unconquerable soldiers, children whose gifts would make any parent's heart burst with pride? Of course it is, don't let all those crocodile-tears about diabetic kids and cleft-palates fool you. Big Pharma, Harvard, and the Bush Administration aren't interested in genetic research because it may alleviate suffering in countries whose GDP couldn't pay for a single X-Box; they're interested because there's a market for people who can fork out $50,000.00 for treatments guaranteed to give them blond, blue-eyed children (playmates/soldiers/future taxpayers) with IQs in the high three-digit range while simultaneously lowering health-care costs by culling the herd over the long term. There's a greater vanity at work here -- asserting man's desires to determine his own nature, and it is the antithesis of humility. St. Nilus, pray for us.

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