A heretical Catholic priest named Arius: the father of Islam

June 29, 2017                                                                                                                               The Solemnity of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul

During the early eighth century Saint John of Damascus gave us the first extensive description of what the world would come to know as Islam, though he himself uses that word.  This passage comes his work Heresies in Epitome: How They Began and Whence They Drew Their Origin and I have taken it from the following website: http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/stjohn_islam.aspx .  The description he gives of religion of the Arabs at this time and of their prophet is fascinating, especially as it relates to the question of Arianism and its relationship to what we know as Islam:

There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist. They are descended from Ishmael, [who] was born to Abraham of Agar, and for this reason they are called both Agarenes and Ishmaelites. They are also called Saracens, which is derived from Sarras kenoi, or destitute of Sara, because of what Agar said to the angel: ‘Sara hath sent me away destitute.’  These used to be idolaters and worshiped the morning star and Aphrodite, whom in their own language they called Khabár, which means great. [100] And so down to the time of Heraclius they were very great idolaters. From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy. Then, having insinuated himself into the good graces of the people by a show of seeming piety, he gave out that a certain book had been sent down to him from heaven. He had set down some ridiculous compositions in this book of his and he gave it to them as an object of veneration.

He says that there is one God, creator of all things, who has neither been begotten nor has begotten.  He says that the Christ is the Word of God and His Spirit, but a creature and a servant, and that He was begotten, without seed, of Mary the sister of Moses and Aaron.  For, he says, the Word and God and the Spirit entered into Mary and she brought forth Jesus, who was a prophet and servant of God. And he says that the Jews wanted to crucify Him in violation of the law, and that they seized His shadow and crucified this. But the Christ Himself was not crucified, he says, nor did He die, for God out of His love for Him took Him to Himself into heaven.  And he says this, that when the Christ had ascended into heaven God asked Him: ‘O Jesus, didst thou say: “I am the Son of God and God”?’ And Jesus, he says, answered: ‘Be merciful to me, Lord. Thou knowest that I did not say this and that I did not scorn to be thy servant. But sinful men have written that I made this statement, and they have lied about me and have fallen into error.’ …

Moreover, they call us Hetaeriasts, or Associators, because, they say, we introduce an associate with God by declaring Christ to the Son of God and God.

You will notice right there in the middle of the first paragraph that it seemed to Saint John of Damascus that this man who the Arabs thought was a prophet had met and conversed with an Arian monk.  But why would he say this, and what was this Arianism thing that he was talking about?

By the time of Saint John of Damascus Arianism was dead or almost dead within the Christian world, but during its heyday four centuries before it had ranked among the greatest challenges the Church had ever faced.  This thing spread like a cancer throughout the Christian world and threatened to bring the newly emancipated Church to her knees for a time until God raised up Saint Anthanasius and the long and hard road to wiping this disease out had begun.  But what was it?

1) The doctrines of Arius

To understand what Arianism was we have to go back almost to the beginning, to the end of the Apostolic Age.  Saint John, who was then the last living Apostle and whose time on earth was running out, gives the Church both of his day and for all time this stark warning in his second Epistle:

For many seducers are gone out into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh: this is a seducer and an antichrist (2 John 7). 

But what is he talking about here, about them being seducers who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh?  Certainly most heretics then and now have publicly confessed in some way, shape, or form the name of Jesus Christ and only a few have denied that whatever false version of Jesus Christ they confess actually came in the flesh.  So what is the Apostle talking about here?

To understand this statement we have to go back to the beginning of that same Apostle’s first epistle:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life: for the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father has appeared to us (1 John 1-2)

Here we get to the nub of the matter: the Apostle solemnly declares here that Eternal Life Itself took on flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ.  This is a concept that is beyond human (and perhaps even angelic) comprehension.  On our own don’t have the first clue what this really means.  We merely have to accept it and to believe it, but many would fall into error in the centuries after the Apostle wrote these words trying to provide their own definitions and explanations for what they meant.

The priest Arius was one of them.  He was not the first but he proved to be a funnel that channeled the primitive errors of the first Christian centuries into an organized movement that swept the Roman world.  He could not accept this teaching, or rather he strove to provide his own explanation for this great Mystery and he failed; in the process he produced a phenomenal error that continues to plague the Church and the world to this day.

When he deposed and excommunicated Arius and his cohorts in the year 318 AD the Bishop Alexander of Alexandria sent out a letter to the whole Catholic world explaining his reasons for taking this drastic step because Arius and his men were using deceitful tactics to gain the sympathy of many Catholic prelates.  In it he provides to his readers an excellent summary of the beliefs of this new sect that would go on to wreak such havoc:

And the words invented by them, and spoken contrary to the mind of Scripture, are as follows:-

“God was not always the Father; but there was a time when God was not the Father.  The Word of God was not always, but was made ‘from things that are not;’  for He who is God fashioned the non-existing from the non-existing; wherefore there was a time when He was not.  For the Son is a thing created, and a thing made: nor is He like to the Father in substance; nor is He the true and natural Word of the Father; nor is He His true Wisdom; but He is one of the things fashioned and made.  And He is called, by a misapplication of the terms, the Word and Wisdom, since He is Himself made by the proper Word of God, and by that wisdom which is in God, in which, as God made all other things, so also did He make Him.  Wherefore, He is by his very nature changeable and mutable, equally with other rational beings.  The Word, too, is alien and separate from the substance of God.  The Father also is ineffable to the Son; for neither does the Word perfectly and accurately know the Father, neither can He perfectly see Him.  For neither does the Son indeed know his own substance as it is.  Since He for our sakes was made. that by Him as by an instrument God might create us; nor would He have existed had not God wished to make us.

Some one asked of them whether the Son of God could change even as the devil changed and they feared not to answer that He can for since He was made and created, He is of mutable nature.”

These doctrines directly contradict the words of Jesus Christ and of Sacred Scripture in general on more occasions than you can count.  They count the Word by which the world was created as itself a created thing, thus distancing the world from God.  They say that the Son is separate from the Father, thus denying the Trinity.  And if one says that the Son is not God then one de facto denies the Incarnation.  Arius definitely did not lack ambition.  But the upshot of his professed doctrines is to try to accept Jesus Christ as some sort of exalted figure while at the same time denying both the Trinity and the Incarnation.  Where else do we find this?

In the Qur’an.  It is true that the portrayal of Jesus Christ was much more exalted in the mouth of Arius and his compatriots in the early 4th century than what is found in the Qur’an more than three hundred years later, but when you separate yourself from the Truth even in the slightest degree then the distance between you and that Truth will continue to grow over time.

How did Arius respond to these charges?  He wrote in response a letter to the same Bishop Alexander in the same year 318 AD.  In it he expresses some thoughts that are highly relevant to our discussion and I have spliced them together here for your consideration (the Scriptural citations were added by modern authors):

We acknowledge One God, alone unbegotten, alone everlasting, alone without beginning, alone true, alone having immortality, alone wise, alone good, alone sovereign…

And God, being the cause of all that happens, is absolutely alone without beginning; but the Son, begotten apart from time by the Father, and created and founded before the ages, was not in existence before his generation, but was begotten apart from time before all things, and he alone came into existence from the Father. For he is neither eternal nor co-eternal nor co-unbegotten with the Father, nor does he have his being together with the Father, as some speak of relations, introducing two unbegotten beginnings. But God is before all things as monad and beginning of all. Therefore he is also before the Son…

Therefore he thus has his being from God; and glories, and life, and all things have been given over to him; in this way God is his beginning. For he is over him, as his God and being before him. But if the expressions from him [Rom. 11:36] and from the womb [Ps. 109:3 (LXX), 110:3 English] and I came from the Father, and I have come [John 16:28], are understood by some to mean that he is part of him [the Father], one in essence or as an emanation, then the Father is, according to them, compounded and divisible and alterable and material, and, as far as their belief goes, the incorporeal God endures a body.

This is an abject contradiction of almost everything that Jesus Christ said about Himself in the Gospels but Arius also contradicts himself here.  He both asserts that the the Son was not always in existence and that He was created outside of time.  That doesn’t wash.  Time exists because of change.  And the change from non being to being of the Son implies de facto that it was done in time!  All of this is of the utmost importance because far from being a long dead heresy it forms the root and core of the the Islamic conception of the nature of God.

The Libyan priest’s fanatical defense here of the unity and transcendence of God leads him to deny the Trinity and the shared and equal Eternal Life of the Three Sacred Persons that manifests itself in nature and in all human society.  One can say that all society of any kind, whether animal or vegetable or human, is nothing but a very dim and distant reflection of the life of the Trinity but Arius’ prime assertion here is that God is a monad i.e. single and alone, or to put it another way: Allah is one God! (Qur’an 4: 171)

The Catholic Church does assert that the Son is begotten by the Father, but what this means or how it works exactly she has never made any claim to be able to explain since it is beyond natural human capacity to understand these things.  We must simply believe them.

Arius on the other hand in his fanatical defense of the unity of God denies his very Life.  Notice how many times he uses the word ‘alone’ in that first paragraph.  His insistence on God being a solitary Being is a denial of Life itself.  Life is individuals living in community.  Life in the natural world is a result of the communion of two beings to bring a third into being.  Life does not spring from a solitary creature save in the lowest forms of bacteria.  Life is all about communion.  There is no alone in life.

2) The history of Arianism and its historical progression

Arius published his doctrine in Alexandria before 318 AD.  He fled and gained the support Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia which was on the Asian side of the Bosporus, just opposite the then newly founded capital of Constantinople.  His ideas began to spread like wildfire through the empire.  The conflict forced the Emperor Constantine to bring the Bishops together at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 where Arius and his ideas were condemned and Bishop Alexander’s excommunication confirmed.

This condemnation had little effect.  Arianism found a foothold among the upper classes and the imperial family of the Roman Empire because it gave them a way to differentiate themselves from the common people who never were seduced by these heretical doctrines.  There were a couple of Arian emperors after Constantine and it suddenly became difficult to be an orthodox Catholic, and especially an orthodox bishop.

As a result a new class of people came into being called ‘semi-Arians.’  These ones didn’t really have a strong theological opinion one way or the other.  They simply wanted peace, peace with the empire and peace with each other and they were willing to compromise the Truth to get that false peace.

It should be understood that even while Arianism was sweeping the empire there seem to have been very few of what might be called fanatical Arians: that is men who were fanatical for the ideas themselves.  Mainly what the vast majority of the Arians of the 4th century were fanatical about was their position in society and gaining imperial patronage, and they would profess whatever theological opinion that was required to attain to these things.  That is why Saint Athanasius was described as being ‘alone against the world’ during his struggles.  Not because the Arian bishops were theological fanatics, though doubtless some were in that camp, but because they didn’t want Athanasius rocking the boat and messing things up; and oftentimes these folk can be far more dangerous to your life and property than theological fanatics.

But the work of Saint Athanasius did stabilize the situation doctrinally, and the Council of Constantinople was called in 381 AD and once more Arianism was condemned.  But the Church was aided this time by a firmly Catholic emperor Theodosius and Arianism rapidly began to lose favor within the empire.   But because of its connection with the Roman military caste of the time that had grown up during the decades of imperial patronage and the work of some Arian missionaries it gained new life among the barbarian tribes who were beginning to conquer great swathes of formerly Roman territory as the Western Roman Empire fell apart during the fifth century.

So now as the fifth century turned into the sixth the Catholic populations of Italy, Spain, and North Africa (modern day Tunisia and parts of Algeria) all fell under the rule of barbarian tribesmen who were Arian.  These men were not theological fanatics but they oftentimes did persecute the Catholic Church and her clergy and the Church was not generally at peace in those territories.

God however had other plans.  He raised up Clovis, the king of the Franks, in the early 500s and brought him into the Catholic Church.  The Franks began to form a powerful kingdom that was the forerunner of France thus earning for that country the title eldest daughter of the Church which she wore proudly for almost thirteen centuries until the disaster of 1789 from which she has never recovered.  But the Franks were the first of the barbarian tribes to become Catholics en masse and this helped to pave the way for others to come into the Church and when the forces of the Eastern Emperor Justinian reconquered Italy and North Africa and parts of Spain during the middle part of the sixth century these regions lost their Arian rulers and the political power of the Arians began to die out.

3)Arianism and Islam

So now as the 500s turned into the 600s Arianism had long lost its theological force in the Mediterranean world, and now its political support dwindled to nothing.  Open and avowed Arians, especially clergy and/or monks, would no longer have been welcome anywhere in the lands that had once been or still were part of the Empire.  They either would have left the Empire on their own to seek greener pastures or they would have been exiled.  Either way there must have been a deep and stirring dislike or even hatred for both the Empire and the Church that they felt had deprived them of their homeland.

But yet if they left it meant that they did adhere to their beliefs.  There must have been some who really did believe the doctrines of Arius or else the thing would have dissipated long before.

We do not know how the Arians lived their lives in those centuries or how they professed their beliefs.  The writings of Arians were rightfully destroyed by the ecclesiastical and civil authorities because of the lies contained in them so we do not possess any Arian prayer books or the like.  There is an account of a Spanish martyr named Hermengildus, the son of a Gothic king, who suffered his martyrdom during the 580s for refusing to receive communion from the hands of an Arian prelate so we know that there must have been at least when they dwelt in the Christianized provinces of the Empire some sort of a similitude of the Mass.  But we do not know how they understood something like Holy Communion as they denied the Eternity of Christ.  Or maybe this particular case was of a part of the clergy who wanted to profess Arianism for political purposes while maintaining the outward appearances of Catholicism for whatever reason.  Maybe there were many like this, we don’t know.

Nor do we have any idea of how the Arians who were fanatical enough about their beliefs to be exiled to a place like Arabia when things went south for them in the Empire would have lived or expressed those beliefs.  Maybe they would have long since dispensed with the idea of the Mass, after all if you deny the Eternal Nature of the Son of God and his Incarnation then there can be no Eternal Sacrifice can there?  In that case what are you really offering at Mass?  Just some flour mixed with water and baked and a cup of wine.  It really is a wonder why so many priests fell for the stupid theology of Arianism since its very essence tends to talk them out of their jobs.

So put yourself in the place of one of Arius’ ardent followers exiled to the desert and really believing what his spiritual father had cried out almost three centuries before: “We acknowledge One God, alone unbegotten, alone everlasting, alone without beginning, alone true, alone having immortality, alone wise, alone good, alone sovereign…  And God, being the cause of all that happens, is absolutely alone without beginning; but the Son, begotten apart from time by the Father, and created and founded before the ages, was not in existence before his generation”.

Think about this statement and all of its implications and put yourself in the position of that follower of Arius three centuries later who had been dispossessed and driven from his homeland and willing to sacrifice everything he had for his misguided belief.  Could you not imagine such a one as this exiled to the deserts of Arabia, once he had learned the local language, crying out to anyone who would listen something like Lâ ilâha illa illallah: “There is no god but God!”?  And if he did get some disciple, say a local merchant with a well to do wife who had connections throughout the Arabian peninsula, to follow him could you not imagine this follower of Arius teaching that disciple about those accursed Trinitarians, those glorified polytheists up north who only wanted to divide God and to cut him up and create many gods from the one God and who commit the most atrocious blasphemy by associating a creature i.e. Jesus Christ with the Eternal Godhead.  Perhaps this Arian monk told his disciple that if he ever encountered anyone like that then he should speak to them like this:

O People of the Book, exceed not the limits in your religion or speak anything about Allah, but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only a messenger of Allah and His word which He communicated to Mary and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you. Allah is only one God. Far be it from His glory to have a son. (Qur’an 4: 171)

This is nothing but an Arian confession of faith.  A gospel according to Arius.

For all we know these may have even been the thoughts of Arius himself, which he expressed to his disciples in one of his more honest moments when he wasn’t trying either to placate or seduce some ecclesiastical authority with his protestations that he thought that the Word was indeed the Son of God, well kind of, or that He was almost eternal, but not quite.  And these words of Arius — I mean Muhammad — I mean Allah– not only found their way into the Qur’an but were also inscribed all along the inside rim of the first great building built by the Arab conquerors in Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock, along with many other interesting things that I hope to get to in the next post.

I think now we have a much better idea why Saint John of Damascus naturally assumed that Muhammad had come into contact with an Arian monk at some point.  I would like to close here with a Benediction that was pronounced over those who had rejected their past belief in the Arian heresy and come into the Catholic Church.  It comes from a copy of a Roman Sacramentary produced at Paris around the year 750 AD but the contents date from a much earlier time closer to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  I will give it first in the original Latin and then supply my own English translation:

BENEDICTIO SUPER EOS QUI DE ARIANA AD CATHOLICAM REDEUNT UNITATEM

Domine Deus omnipotens, Pater Domini nostri Iesu Christi, qui dignatus es famulos et famulas tuas ab errore et mendacio haeresos Arianae eruere, et ad ecclesiam tuam sanctam catholicam eos perducere, tu, Domine, mitte in eos Spiritum Paraclitum sanctum sapientiae et intellectus, spiritum consilii et fortitudinis, spiritum scientiae et pietatis, et adimple eos, Domine, spiritum timoris Dei, in nomine Iesu Christi salvatoris nostri.  Per quem et cum quo tibi honor et gloria in saecula saeculorum.  Amen.

BLESSING OVER THOSE WHO TURN BACK FROM ARIANISM TO CATHOLIC UNITY

Lord God Almighty, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who have deigned to rescue your servants from the error and lie of Arianism, and to have led them through to your holy Catholic Church; You Lord send to them the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of strength, the Spirit of knowledge and of piety, and fill them Lord with the Spirit of the fear of God; in the Name of Jesus Christ our Savior.  Through Whom and with Whom be honor and glory to You forever and all ages.  Amen.

May a blessing like this be pronounced of a great multitude of Muslims on the day that they are rescued from the lie that started with an heretical Catholic priest named Arius.

Immaculate Heart of Mary pray for us.  Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on us.

The birth of Islam

June 28, 2017                                                                                                                               The Memorial of Saint Irenaeus

Over the past six months or so I have been reading the work of several scholars and writers who are reexamining the events of the middle part of the first millennium in the Middle East that gave birth to the thing we know as Islam.  I confess that I had simply taken the Muslim story for granted i.e. that things pretty much did happen the way they said, except that I didn’t believe that the revelation was divine.  It seemed to me that the Muslim accounts of the events of the seventh century could be relied upon to give a basic framework of what took place if you took certain of their embellishments with a very large grain of salt.

But maybe that isn’t the case.  In my ignorance I was completely unaware that the first biography of Muhammad was not even written until a century after his reported death in 632 A.D.  and the establishment of the Arab empire in the Middle East, and that we only possess even this biography in very large fragments from a book that was penned a lifetime after that, in the early 800s.

And the copious and many time self contradictory hadith that give Muslims the details of their prophet’s life and form the basis for their understanding of how they should live their own lives and that I have quoted from in other posts on this site were only compiled during the middle part of the 800s, some two hundred years after the man’s reported death.

So what is going on here?  A pious believing Muslim would tell us that, sure, all of these written records were indeed compiled when you say they were compiled but all of the information contained in them were passed down orally (and the Arab culture of the time was essentially an oral culture) and faithfully through the many lifetimes that intervened between the time of Muhammad and the time that the events of his life were committed to writing.  Really?

And before you say “It is the same thing with the Gospels!  They were based on a vague oral tradition and only written centuries after the life of Jesus, whoever he was, if he even existed, so if you don’t believe what the Muslims tell us about Muhammad on that basis then why should I ever believe anything you say about Jesus?” I will tell you that the textual evidence from inside the Gospels, not to mention the parts of the Acts of the Apostles written in the first person by someone who obviously took part in some of the events he was recording and who also wrote the Gospel of Saint Luke about the life of Jesus, indicates that they are the product of eyewitness testimony and were all, save Saint John, composed in the decades immediately following the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  So spare me, and spare yourself, all of the fairy tales about Q and J and D and E and P and X and Y and Z, and leave the fantasies of modern ‘scholars’ who have spent their lives searching for highbrow sounding excuses to justify their unbelief on the side of the road where they belong.  Just read the Gospels themselves.

But back to the Muslims.  To believe that these memories were transmitted faithfully over so many generations then you really do have to believe that Muhammad was a divine messenger and that the Qur’an is divine revelation.  Because Divine protection is the only way of securing accurately and in great detail a message from the Most High (or anything else for that matter) that is transmitted among men across so many generations.  But was Muhammad a divine messenger?  What is the evidence?

You can already guess what my answer to that question will be, but there are a billion people in the world who think otherwise.  So let’s look at the evidence.  I was intrigued by the title of Robert Spencer’s book Did Muhammad Exist? so I read it and that in turn lead me to a collection of essays on the same subject entitled Early Islam and edited by Karl-Heinz Ohlig.

I will say first off that I do not agree with many of the conclusions of these authors.  Robert Spencer’s concern is politics.  He seems to see everything through the lens of the contemporary conflict of the last few decades between radical Islamic ideology and the secularist and functionally atheistic republics who have since the end of the 18th century dominated life in the formerly Catholic world.  Ohlig and the authors that he publishes are largely German and still in love with the so called ‘enlightenment,’ despite all of the terrors and misery that it has brought to our world.  The evince a loathing for every bit of evidence anywhere and on any subject that even indirectly points to the remotest possibility that there is an objective Truth outside of their own opinions and that this Truth has somehow revealed Himself in our world.  In other words they are completely hostile to even the idea of any sort of revealed religion anywhere in our world.

This hatred for Divine Revelation clouds their viewpoint and all of the conclusions they reach.  The people who lived during the time they are discussing, whether Christian or not, did not share this hatred, in fact the vast majority of them felt exactly the opposite and thus a chasm of misunderstanding opens up between our scholars and the people they are discussing.  Thus they are led to some of the most preposterous conclusions imaginable.

For example, the basic thesis of Ohlig and his companions seems to be that there was no real Arab conquest of the Middle East during the seventh century.  They posit that the Byzantines, after fighting an almost thirty year war against the Persians to first protect and then to get back the provinces of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine and the holy city of Jerusalem, then just decided to give them up, these the richest and most valued provinces of their empire, and hand them over to some Arab governors who became Arab kings and who were supposedly the real founders of the Arab empire.  Does that even make any sense?

Second they posit that, based on that assumption, there was no charismatic figure who united the peoples of the Arabian peninsula, there was no sudden conquest out of nowhere that shook the world.  No, it was all very gradual and in fact nobody even really noticed the change at first.  Really?  The historical memory in the bones of every Christian would belie that point.  But those men are not Christians.

So why do I bring all of this up?  Why even listen to these men?

Because something happened in the seventh century.  But what?  The canonical Muslim sources date from many lifetimes later, but there are other sources that come from that time, and these authors do an excellent job of cataloging them, even if they misuse and draw wrong conclusions from them.

Something happened in the seventh century somewhere in Arabia that has perpetrated and has been made to perpetrate a fraud that has now captured the hearts of a billion people.  They deserve to hear the truth because they all share in the Human Nature of Jesus Christ and they are all sons of his holy Mother just like us, and they have the same right to know the Gospel as we and as our ancestors have had.

The evidence that this new seventh century ‘revelation’ to the Arabs, whatever they thought of it at the time, was not new and was not a revelation is all over their holy book and the history of those times.  But to understand it one must understand the Catholic Church and one must understand her enemies both in the other world and in this world.  And one must understand her history to understand the history of those enemies.

I have no letters after my name, and I work in a humble profession , but I have gleaned the knowledge of some things about history and about religion and about languages and about the history of the Church during my life.  Therefore I intend, God willing, to make the case here that to really understand the history of Islam we have to begin by going back three centuries to the days of Constantine, when the authority of a single Roman Caesar still held sway over the whole territory from Palestine to the borders of Scotland, and we must begin our discussion with a certain Libyan priest who took up his career in Alexandria named Arius, because the doctrines that he and his successors spread throughout the Roman Empire and the Mediterranean world are where Islam really began.  In the next post I intend to examine what we know of the history of Arianism and its doctrines and to examine the possibilities of a relationship between those doctrines and the doctrines that form the foundation of what is called Islam.

I entrust this effort to the protection of Our Lady of Fatima, fifteen days after the hundredth anniversary of the revelation of of her Immaculate Heart, and I beg her intercession with her Divine Son that whatever is done here may serve his inscrutable purposes and his Holy Will.

The Islamic State threatens to conquer Rome

February 16, 2015

The Islamic State today released a video that purports to show the beheading of twenty one Egyptian Coptic Christians who had been kidnapped during December and January around the Libyan city of Sirte which is around 250 miles east southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast.  An armed group who has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, in a strange echo of what took place in Mosul last June, seized control of government buildings in Sirte on Saturday. The executioners of the hostages vowed that the Islamic State will “conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet.”    The Egyptian government launched retaliatory airstrikes on the eastern Libyan city of Derna, a stronghold of Islamic State militants, on the Mediterranean coast about halfway between the Egyptian border and Benghazi.

So will the Islamic State launch an attack on Rome from its new base on the south shore of the Mediterranean?

I doubt that we will see armies flying the black flag marching up the Via della Conciliazione anytime soon.  The groups loyal to IS are one of a hodgepodge of armed militias fighting in the internecine warfare that makes up life in post Qaddafi Libya.  And they are far from the center of the Islamic State’s base of operations in the landlocked area surrounding the Syria Iraq border.  If these armed Libyan IS affiliates ever do manage to carve out some territory on the Libyan coast, hold it, and somehow maintain regular communication with IS central in Raqaa and Mosul they may use it to transport terrorist operatives to Italy and southern Europe or follow that tried and true ancient Muslim practice of launching assaults on Mediterranean shipping, but we are a long ways from that at the present moment.

However we should all note that the world is changing.  The current geopolitical chessboard that puts several obstacles in the path of the Islamic State is growing shakier by the day and the seemingly calm period that we have all lived through since the collapse of the USSR in 1991 is now likely over.  The divisions between Russia and NATO over Ukraine and Russia’s proper place in the world are daily hardening and growing deeper.  While the cease fire agreed to in Minsk may hold for a time it is already looking shaky and will certainly not bring a long term solution to this problem.  Catholics should prepare themselves for the fact that conditions are being created for something this generation has deemed unthinkable, a general war in Europe, to take place.  We shall see.

If that does come to pass, and even if the continent were to avoid the nuclear annihilation that would always be a looming prospect in such a conflict, Europe (and North America) will be changed forever.  Maybe the NATO alliance will fracture and since this seems to be Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goal (add to that the abysmal qualities of the current leadership in NATO countries) we should not dismiss the possibility.  If this happened then southern Europe would be more open to Muslim harassment and attack than it has for several centuries.  And if the whole of Europe were weakened by some conflict with Russia then it would be exceedingly vulnerable to such threats.  Again we shall see.

The Muslims have always had the dream of conquering Rome.  They conquered the ancient Catholic Sees of Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Carthage in the first great wave of Islamic conquest in the seventh century.  They took Constantinople during the great explosion of Turkish power in the fifteenth and immediately after tried to move into Italy at Otranto but Rome was saved by the death of Sultan Mehmet II.  They have always wanted Rome but have never been able to lay a finger on it save for one raid in the dark ninth century where Arab marauders actually managed to accost the city and break into old Saint Peter’s basilica (then outside the city walls) before being driven off and never (yet) returning.

So now at least some Muslims are remembering who they are and what their religion is about.  What should Catholics do?  WE SHOULD REMEMBER THAT WE ARE CATHOLIC AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CATHOLIC.  We should learn the teachings of the Church and live them.  Participate in the Sacramental life of the Church.  Go to Confession.  Live your life in a state of grace.  If one is able he should learn Latin and pray the Divine Office in Latin.  Pope Benedict XVI reinstituted the Breviarium Romanum as an optional form for the prayer of the Church when he brought back the Tridentine Mass in his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.  Use it. Those Latin words of the Psalter were translated by Saint Jerome before the end of the Roman Empire, when the Mediterranean was still a unified Catholic sea.  Learn them.  Pray them.  Those words are older than Islam.

And pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

America enters the Syrian civil war

The Feast of Saint Pius of Petrelcina (Padre Pio)

The United States of America and five Arab countries launched a wide ranging series of air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria from Aleppo to the Iraq border last night.  So the question now before us are as follows: has the United States recovered from the confusion it has suffered since its exit from Iraq in 2011?  Will, in six months time, the names of the Islamic State and the erstwhile successor of Muhammad the Caliph Ibrahim a.k.a. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi be relegated to mere historical oddities and footnotes.  Will Syria, the Middle East, and the world enjoy greater peace and prosperity as a result of this action?  We shall see.

syriastrike

The red circles indicate strike locations last night as reported by the US Department of Defense (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/world/middleeast/us-isis-syria.html?_r=0)

Only the Lord of history knows the answer to these questions.  Though I can say that in my life I have seen one or two US military operations begin with all sorts of flash and flare and high sounding promises and then descend into the muck and mud of chaos and confusion.  I remember watching live on television as ‘shock and awe’ descended on Baghdad on the night of March 21, 2003 with the high explosive power and pinpoint accuracy of American cruise missiles and satellite guided bombs that would obliterate one building and leave the structure standing next to it without a scratch.  One would have said that night that no one could ever stand up to United States’ military might and its awe inspiring technological supremacy.  Yet it was men who devised primitive explosives and hid them inside of donkey carcasses on the side of the road who unraveled all of the American plans for Iraq.

There is not much really to tell at this point.  The coming days and weeks will give us the answers, all in due time.  The advance of  the Islamic State toward the Syrian/Turkish border over the last week has sent a tidal wave of humanity across that border.  This undoubtedly helped to provoke the American attack on Syria.  The world today is not the same as the world of 2003 or the world of 1991 when the United States crushed Saddam Hussein’s army in southern Iraq and pushed it out of Kuwait.  Russia today strongly condemned the US action in Syria and as that country is making its presence felt more mightily in the international arena than at any time in the last thirty years its opinion can no longer just be ignored.

So after all the massive explosions and high flown rhetoric on television are done with the world still will have a mess on its hands.  An we shall see where that leads us.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

Meanwhile the Islamic State advances…

While presidents and prime ministers dither in Washington, London, Baghdad, Paris name your capital the Islamic State staged another advance and captured twenty one Kurdish villages in northern Syria along the Turkish border during the last forty eight hours.  The low casualty count among the Kurdish forces protecting the area, seven reported killed, is a likely indicator that whoever was supposed to be defending these villages simply ran away.

The rather confused Western response since June to the menace of the Islamic State is strange since the group/state (whatever they are) could easily have been defeated then and probably still could be now by a fraction of the power that the United States military is capable of bringing to bear.  But instead worry and doubt and confusion cloud the eyes of American and European leaders and their publics.  If one looks at history, especially Biblical history, one finds that at moments of great historical change a certain blindness overtakes those who are accounted powerful.  All of the sudden they just are not capable of doing what on paper they should be able to do with great ease.  It just isn’t in them anymore.  Strange, isn’t it?  Are we at one of those historical moments?  Time will tell.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

The Great Unraveling

The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

Roger Cohen wrote an Op-ed piece in the New York Times that describes quite well what the world is going through right now.  Wars, rumors of war, the rumbles of far away conflicts that we could hear in our own backyards if only we were listening.  But most of us really aren’t listening are we?  Too many of us can’t seem to lift our eyes from our iPhones or Androids or Samsung Galaxies long enough to notice the ripples in the air.  But things are changing; the world is changing and we want desperately to sleep and not to be bothered by such things.

But of course, since he is writing in the New York Times, Mr. Cohen does not go into the root cause of the decay that we are living through.  Why does the sand shift under our feet so? Why does the earth itself quake under our feet?  One could make an argument, a well founded argument, about the tides of history and history’s Lord and how these things happen.  But doesn’t the answer really lie in a deeper and darker place in our heart?  We have completely rejected the law of God, the law that God gave us in his wisdom and his charity to teach us how to be his sons.  Our ancestors rejected the Church because they could no longer bear anyone having authority over them, they wanted to follow their own designs.  The generations following them rejected Jesus Christ: declaring Him to be a good guy, a wise philosopher, or a clever teacher of morals who employed witty sayings to bring in the people.  But to those generations, or at least to a large part of those generations in their inmost heart, He was not divine.  No He could never be divine.  Such things just didn’t happen, God was too distant for that and besides, these things just didn’t happen.  In the twentieth century what was once the Catholic world rejected God entirely; flocking to the atheistic ideologies of communism, capitalism, and fascism that all promised to make this world a wonderful and prosperous place because, after all there is nothing beyond this, right?  And in the twenty-first century we reject even the natural law: men marry men and women marry women because it makes everybody feel good and nobody is offended, nobody in this world at least.  We see men in black masks sawing off the heads of young men in orange jumpsuits and call them barbarians, safely ensconced behind the walls of a civilizations where mothers murder their own children in their own wombs while the fathers act as accessories to the crime because of their own indifference and a desire to remain adolescents for the whole scope of their lives.  Tell me who are the real barbarians?  Yes the world is failing and we all need to repent.  While this may not be the end of the world and the Son of Man may not be coming on the clouds anytime soon (though who can say?) we are definitely at the end of something.  We need to repent and we need to be converted and we need to pray.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!

The Islamic State

The Feast of Saint Louis

Over the past two weeks the United States has begun a military air campaign in northern Iraq to prevent the forces of the Islamic State from advancing into Kurdistan and devastating Kurdish peshmerga forces and to help them regain control of the Mosul Dam.  The Islamic State then withdrew its forces from those locations and its advances in Iraq appear to have, for the moment, been blunted.  So whither the Islamic State?  Whiter Iraq and whither Syria?  What is going on here? Has the insertion of limited US air power in northern Iraq and the entrance of a few hundred military advisers into the country fundamentally changed the situation or not?

The American air strikes have so far been limited and the capabilities of the Islamic State are much more advanced than any terrorist group has had in modern times.  The have begun to actually form themselves into a state in the territories they have taken over and most importantly they have a serious budget.  Seizing large amounts of cash in Mosul, gaining oil revenue from the fields they have captured in Syria, and presumably garnering some sort of tax revenue from their conquered territories makes them essentially a terrorist army, a force that may end up being a serious threat to the current world order.

And while the Islamic State has temporarily paused its offensive in Iraq it has done no such thing in Syria.  Yesterday its forces seized the Tabqa airbase southwest of the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqah in north central Syria, thereby clearing that province of all Syrian government forces.

But here is the issue.  The Islamic State needs to be defeated in both Syria and Iraq and the border between those two countries needs to be reestablished as it was before June.  Unless the United States is prepared to send several hundred thousand ground troops into both Syria and Iraq (which it will not do) then it will need to coordinate with both Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which Barack Obama will be loathe to do, and some sort of working government which does not yet exist in Baghdad and have them work in concert to set things back to the way they were.  Does anyone see that happening?

The rise of the Islamic State and its declaration of caliphate is nothing less than an attempt at world revolution akin to what the Nazis and the Bolsheviks did in the last century.  If it is not strangled in the cradle then this world will be far different by the time the next decade ends.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and for their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the Muslim peoples.  And join the Rosary Confraternity!