Kairos, Courage, Love

In his Trojan Horse in the City of God, Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote of the way a particular historical situation compels Christians to speak a perennial truth with special forcefulness. The Greek term for such moments is kairos, what von Hildebrand terms “the call of the hour.” At such moments in history, von Hildebrand writes “the historical thematicity makes the promulgation of certain truths especially urgent.”

Such a moment, for example, was the coming to power of National Socialism in Germany. The condemnation of totalitarianism and racism was called for at this very moment. Though these things were evil as such, and would have been evil in any historical period, condemnation of them was made thematic by the fact that National Socialism assumed power in 1933. Before then, the bishops had indeed condemned National Socialism, and membership in the party carried the penalty of excommunication. Unfortunately, however, the German bishops in 1933 failed to uphold this condemnation at the very hour when an even more solemn condemnation was called for. [76-77]

Condemning the Church for its failures (real and imagined) in confronting Hitler has become something of a cottage industry, a hobby of those who would not dare utter a politically incorrect word in the safety of the faculty lounge. But it is these same critics who loudly insist that the Church’s position today on abortion and other moral issues represents an unwarranted interference of religion in political life. One simply can’t have it both ways.

All of this only makes von Hildebrand’s insights all the more prescience, inasmuch as he expressed them in a book published in 1967. They are conspicuously relevant to two neuralgic issues in our cultural life today: abortion most especially and the deconstruction of the traditional family. From a Christian point of view, what distinguishes these issues from all the other pressing moral concerns of our day is that they involve overt challenges not only to the unbroken Judeo-Christian moral tradition but to the anthropological reality which that tradition brings to religious fulfillment.

In addition to the standard human fecklessness, von Hildebrand argued that “an antipathy to the condemnation of secular ‘orthodoxies’ and religious deviations characterizes the mentality of our time.”

Condemnation and the unmasking of errors is widely seen today as something hostile to love. [78]

Christians confronted with the moral quandary of a kairos moment, will find what von Hildebrand calls “a false irenicism” attractive, as many bishops have.

Instead of helping to convey the true message of Christ, our effort to adjust to the mentality of the other may so transform that message that acceptance of it no longer requires a conversion. [82]

What might be analogous today to the situation that the German bishops faced at Fulda in 1933? It seems to me it is the question that the Catholic bishops face concerning whether politicians who profit politically from their self-identification as Catholics but who are unwavering supporters of abortion on demand and who actively oppose the Church on a sundry of sexual morality issues should be allowed to publicly parade their mockery of Catholic moral doctrine by presenting themselves for the reception of the Eucharist. This is not “using the Eucharist as a political weapon” any more than it would have been to refuse communion to the officers of the Third Reich. The savagery of the latter may have been less hidden by pseudo-medical apparatus and less plausibly justified by moral obfuscations and a dissembling vocabulary than that of the former, but it is the former that has set the record for the slaughter of the innocent in our age.

To repeat:

Unfortunately, however, the German bishops in 1933 failed to uphold this condemnation at the very hour when an even more solemn condemnation was called for.

(Originally posted in December 2006 on www.gil-bailie.com)

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