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Thomas International Center
September 2008


Ralph McInerny


Diocletian Revisited?



         When I was young and the Martyrology was read in the refectory at noon before lunch, the tales of persecution seemed remote and incredible. Movies of course focused on the Christians in the Coloseum being herded into the main arena where lions awaited. Sicut leo rugiens circuit, quaerens quem devoret. Technicolor softened the effect much as the graceful statue of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere did.

         Growing up in a civilization that could still be called at least the remnant of Christendom, the possibility of persecution was unthinkable. After all, the post-Enlightenment states all embraced the freedom to worship as one wished, making it all seem a matter of individual and doubtless irrational choice, but nonetheless there seemed no menace in that indifferentism. For a time at least, the waning conviction that a just polity entailed the acknowledgment of God was something to lament, but even on Caesar's coins one could still read, In God We Trust. How swiftly all that has changed.

         The European Union is deliberately forgetful of the Christianity that shaped the old continent. And, as the case of Rocco Butilgione made clear, any politician who has the termerity publicly to adhere to the most basic precepts of natural law as firmed up by the Church, is decidedly person non grata. The faith disqualifies one for public life.

         Militant secularism has been a growing force in the United States, with believers increasingly regarded as menaces to the public weal. The key issue for some thirty years has been abortion. One whole political party has transformed itself into the party of abortion, and although its opposite has spoken its actions have seldom matched its words. Nothing has been sadder than Catholic politicians who embraced the abortion creed, until recently with impunity. Now at least bishops are reminding them, in number and out loud, that support for abortion separates them from the Church.

         The infiltration of Islam into the western democracies has found them unable to deal with a group hostile to the supposed principles of those democracies. Freedom of worship? Count the Christian churches in Muslim countries. The natural rights which are the pride of secular republics are now used against them in order to undermine them. Sharia has come to be recognized as an alternative system of justice, with of course the Archbishop of Canterbury doing the now familiar Anglican shuffle on the matter.

         Where will it all end? The battles of Vienna and Lepanto are now being re-fought in the heart of once Christian lands where Christians of robust faith are in short supply. It is no longer unthinkable that in some future Martyrology this generation or the next will figure prominently. Et alibi aliorum plurimorum sanctorum....


Ralph McInerny