“We know not how soon the tide of war may come to our homes.”
Fr Henry James Coleridge wrote prolifically about the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
This extract, from his book about the end of the world, shows how accurate his warnings were about the aims, ideas and even the slogans used to engender a falling away from the faith.
This is the first of three extracts from Fr Coleridge we will be publishing on the end of the world.
Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ – On the End of the World
Image: Pillement, Shipwreck in a Storm – Wiki Commons CC
The Return of the King – Discourses on the Latter Days
Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ
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The Decay of Faith
What elements of heathenism might or might not return
We need not exaggerate the miseries of our own time; nor draw in darker colours than St. Paul, the evil features of the last great apostasy.
The Son of God, as another Apostle tells us, was “manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil”; and I do not find, in any of the prophetic descriptions of the restored paganism of modern days, that the system of the worship of false gods is to revive, with its abominable rites of blood and its mysteries of licentiousness.
Wherever the Cross has been once firmly planted, we may surely hope that the world has seen the last of the public worship of Satan.
[Instead,] in St. Paul’s description of the latter days, I find the blasphemy of the true God substituted for the worship of devils.
But, my brethren, the Son of God was not manifested altogether to destroy the works of man. He came to raise man, change him, regenerate him, sanctify him, by uniting him to Himself.
He did not come to take away man’s free-will, or to tear out of his nature those seeds of possible evil which produced all the human part of the paganism on which we have been reflecting. The empire of Satan has been overthrown, but alas! Man is still his own great enemy, and though our Lord has armed him against himself, He has still left him the power to mar the work of God in his own soul; and this power, which each one of us possesses in his own case, is always fearfully active in the corruption of the Christian society, the character of which is the result and the reflection of that of the parts of which it is made up.
The revival of heathenism in our times
And now, my brethren, what need have we of any subtlety of inquiry or refinement of speculation to tell us that this modern heathenism of which the prophecies speak is around us on every side?
Mankind are in many senses far mightier, and the resources and enjoyments at their command are far ampler, than in the days of old. We are in possession of the glorious but intoxicating fruits of that advanced civilization and extended knowledge which has sprung up from the seeds which the Church of God has, as it were, dropped on her way through the world. Society has been elevated and refined, but on that very account it has become capable of a more penetrating degradation, of a more elegant and a more poisonous corruption.
Knowledge has been increased, but on the increase of knowledge has followed the increase of pride. Science has unravelled the laws of nature and the hidden treasures of the material universe, and they place fresh combinations of power and new revelations of enjoyment in the hands of men who have not seen in the discovery increased reasons for self-restraint or for reverence for the Giver of all good gifts.
The world, the home of the human race, has been opened to civilized man in all its distant recesses, and he has taken, or is taking, possession of its full inheritance; but his onward path is the path of avarice and greed, of lust and cruelty, and he seizes on each new land as he reaches it in the spirit of the merchant or the conqueror, not in that of the harbinger of peace, the bearer of the good tidings of God.
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Charity growing cold
At home, in Christendom itself, we hear, as our Lord said, of wars and rumours of wars, nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. In the Apostles’ time, it was an unheard of thing that the majestic peace and unity of the Roman Empire should not absorb and keep in harmony a hundred rival nationalities. In our time it is not to be thought of that the supernatural bond of the Christian Church should be able to keep nations which are brethren in the faith from devouring one another.
Or, again, my brethren, let us turn from public to private life. Look at social life, look at domestic manners; consider the men and women of the present day in their amusements, their costumes, the amount of restraint they put upon the impulses of nature; compare them at their theatres and their recreations, compare them as to their treatment of the poor and the afflicted classes; compare them, again, as to the style of art which they affect, or the literature in which they delight, with the old heathen of the days of St. Paul.
I do not say – God forbid! – that there is not a wide and impassable gulf between the two, for that would be to say that so many centuries of Christendom had been utterly wasted, and that the Gospel law has not penetrated to the foundations of society, so that it is not true that our Lord rules, as the Psalmist says, “in the midst of His enemies,” even over the world which would fain emancipate itself from His sway.
But I do say, that if a Christian of the first ages were to rise from the dead, and examine our society, point by point, on the heads which I have intimated, and compare it, on the one hand, with the polished refined heathen whom he may have known at the Courts of Nero or Domitian; and, on the other, with the pure strict holiness of his own brethren in the faith, who worshipped with him in the catacombs, he might find it difficult indeed to say that what he would see around him in London or Paris was derived by legitimate inheritance rather from the traditions of the martyr Church than from the customs of the persecuting heathen.
He would miss the violence, the cruelty, the riotous and ruffianly lust, the extraordinary disrespect for humanity and human life which distinguished the later Roman civilization; but he would find much of its corruption, much of its licentiousness, much of its hardness of heart.
The unregenerate instincts of human nature are surging up like a great sea all around us, society is fast losing all respect for those checks upon the innate heathenism of man which have been thrown over the surface of the world by the Church. It is becoming an acknowledged law that whatever is natural is right, and by nature is meant nature corrupted by sin, nature not illuminated by faith and unassisted by grace — that is, the lower appetites of man in revolt against conscience, looking for no home but earth and no satisfaction but in the present, “having no hope of the promise, and without God in this world.”
The final struggle will destroy all sects, leaving the Church against the world
All these dangers with which we are beset, which have their roots in human nature, and whose growth is fostered by the condition of the world, have been met by our Lord Jesus Christ, and are provided for in the Church. We are apt to marvel at what we deem the superfluous richness and profusion of that which may be called the armament of the Church, the variety of the means of grace, the multiplied channels by which heavenly strength is conveyed to fainting and wounded souls.
And yet not one of all these is needless; the whole strength and all the weapons of the Church will be strained to the utmost in her final struggle.
The whole might of unregenerate nature, in its undying repugnance to submit to the restraints of the law of God, is bearing down upon the Christian bulwarks of society with a weight as immense, and as relentless in its pressure on every part, as the tide of a whole ocean, which is swung in its daily flow against the rocks and cliffs of a far-stretching continent. What can resist it?
One force alone, the force of God, who sets bounds to the sea, and can check the raging passions of a whole race.
We hear little, in the latter days, of heresies and schisms, of isolated communities and partial forms of Christianity. These things will have had their day and have done much evil in it, but they are too frail and miserable in themselves to live on the surges of that last tempest of humanity — the Church alone can ride out the storm.
But again, my brethren, how does the Church deal with such assaults as those we are contemplating?
She works, no doubt, by the sacraments and the other means of grace, by the Word of God preached and taught in the sanctuary, and the like. But the strongholds of the Church are in the family and the school.
Her battlefields are those on which such questions as that of the sanctity of marriage and that of the purity of Christian education are fought out.
Give her the forming of her children, and she will train up the Christian youth and maiden, she will join them in a holy bond to form the family, of Christian families she will compose Christian communities, Christian nations, and out of Christian nations she will build up Christendom, a Christian world.
She can cure nature, and nothing else can.
Give her free scope, and you will hear little of that long list of heathen vices of which you have heard to-day; little of men being covetous, contentious, slaves of avarice and licentiousness, there will be no complaints of the decay of mercy, or of natural affection, of human kindness, honesty, faithfulness.
Barbarians at the Gate
So then, in these our days, can we too often remind ourselves of the points of attack chosen by the enemies of faith and of society? Can we forget with what a wearisome sameness of policy the war is waged year after year, first in one place and then in another; how certain it is that, as soon as we hear that some nation hitherto guided by Catholic instincts has become a convert to the enlightened ideas of our times, the next day will bring the further tidings that in that nation marriage is no longer to be treated as a sacrament, and that education is to be withdrawn from the care of the Church and her ministers?
And, indeed, my brethren, we know not how soon we ourselves may be engaged in a deadly conflict, on one at least of these points.
Up to this time we, in England, have been able to train our children for ourselves. And, to give honour where honour is due, we have owed our liberty in great measure to the high value which certain communities outside the Church set upon distinctively Christian and doctrinal instruction. But we know not how soon the tide of war may come to our homes.
We hear a cry in the air — it says that the child belongs to the State, and that it is the duty of the State to take his education to itself.
The cry is false; the child belongs to the parent, belongs to the Church, belongs to God.
In that cry speaks the reviving paganism of our day. Surely it should teach us, if nothing else can, the paramount importance of Christian education. If we give in to that cry we are lost.
What should we do?
Train up your children, my brethren, in the holy discipline and pure doctrine of the Church, and they are formed thereby to be soldiers of Jesus Christ in the coming conflict against the powers of evil.
[But] train them up in indifference to religion and Christian doctrine, and if they are not at once renegades from their faith, then at least they will be far too weak and faint-hearted in their devotion to the Church, to range themselves courageously among her champions in her terrible battle against the last apostacy.
The Return of the King – Discourses on the Latter Days by Fr H.J. Coleridge. Also available for UK readers and at the Internet Archive.
Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ – On the End of the World
Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ – On Purgatory
One of the greatest pains of Purgatory and how to avoid it
What might Jairus’s Daughter tell us about the pains of Purgatory?
Our Lady, the Rosary and the Holy Souls
Our Lord will come and purge the Temples of our Souls
The price of delay in relieving the souls in Purgatory
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 I John iii. 8
 Psalm cix. 2
 Ephes. ii. 12.