A fourth century vision of the twenty-first century
Setting the scene: the Church in fourth century Rome
It is 321AD, just a few years after the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan. Christians are finally freed from persecution and can practice their faith openly. Constantine has already built a massive Cathedral at St John Lateran in Rome. His engineers are now engaged in the difficult project of levelling the terrain at the Vatican in order to construct a basilica over St Peter’s tomb.
The Christian message is beginning to permeate the city’s culture as the community of believers grows. The corruption, worldliness and moral licentiousness of Roman society is beginning to be influenced by the sobriety, justice and charity of Christians. In addition, the new spate of church building has led to a renewal in art and architecture. These disciplines had been on the decline, but the slide has now been halted. In fact, the building of St Peter’s basilica on an arduous sloping site will turn out to be one of the greatest engineering projects of antiquity.
An imaginary dialogue between fourth century Christians
Maximus and Claudius are two members of the Church in Rome. They kept the faith during the persecutions and are now enjoying religious freedom. Claudius has the gift of prophecy and has recently had visions regarding the state of the world in the twenty-first century.
CLAUDIUS: Maximus, I assumed that my visions had a divine origin, but the things I’ve seen from the twenty-first century simply cannot be true!
MAXIMUS: What do you mean? What have you seen?
CLAUDIUS: Well, the Christian faith is going to flourish and is going to have a very positive influence on European civilisation. After the Roman order has passed away, Christianity will give rise to developments in education, medicine, care for the sick and dying. The Church will create great schools and these in turn will give rise to a method of investigation of nature which will be very fruitful for society.
MAXIMUS: That all sounds wonderful. How will it go wrong?
CLAUDIUS: People will reject the Christian worldview for various motives – the bad behaviour of Church leaders, the scandal of religious wars, the arrogance of heretics who break away from the Church. Certain elements of Christian humanism – liberty, fraternity, equality – will be made central, but people will reject the basic premise upon which these elements are based: that we are each created in the image and likeness of God.
MAXIMUS: A world in which there is liberty, fraternity and equality doesn’t sound all that bad though, does it? Much better than life under the Roman persecutions!
CLAUDIUS: When the sense of the transcendent is eliminated, however, then freedom and equality soon give way to tyranny. As a future bishop of the Church will say, “The religion of the anti-Christ will be a brotherhood of men without the fatherhood of God”.
MAXIMUS: A brotherhood that does not place itself under the fatherhood of God? What kind of society will result?
CLAUDIUS: In medicine, for example, humanity is going to develop an amazing technique for preventing disease. It involves injecting people with a miniscule amount of the disease, causing long-term resistance to the full-blown illness.
MAXIMUS: And what could be wrong with that?
CLAUDIUS: The problem is that, in some cases, they are going to use the bodies of babies who have been killed in the womb to develop and test these medicines.
MAXIMUS: Surely not, Claudius! Why would they do such a barbaric thing? Maybe they will be desperate because there will be no other way to prevent the disease? Or maybe those babies are going to die anyway for some reason?
CLAUDIUS: Even those reasons would not justify the killing of the innocent! But it seems that the doctors could easily develop the medicine in alternative ways without using the parts of babies. And the vision also revealed that the vast majority of the babies will be perfectly healthy children; their parents will kill them mostly for lifestyle reasons.
MAXIMUS: Killing babies for lifestyle reasons! And then using the baby’s body as medicine for adults! Maybe your visions are indeed becoming unreliable, Claudius. We thought the excesses of the emperors were barbaric, but not even Nero stooped to that level!
CLAUDIUS: Companies will buy body parts from the clinics that kill the babies, even instructing the “doctors” on how to perform the killings so that the parts will be more useful for study. Much of the research will not even be for medical reasons, but for cosmetic ones! Baby parts used to produce anti-wrinkle cream!
MAXIMUS: Sorry, Claudius, I think that was just a bad dream you had! Christianity is growing in the Roman world. It is already doing away with barbaric practices such as the abandoning of sick children to die.
CLAUDIUS: Yes, as I said, Christianity will flower and will give rise to impressive learning and culture. It will inspire great humanism. But this humanism will cease to be a humanism under God its creator. It will become something arrogant and autonomous. Humanity will consider itself to be the master of its own destiny, with no sense of the transcendent. If human beings are just biological realities, clumps of cells, then their value is cheapened immeasurably.
MAXIMUS: What else did you see?
CLAUDIUS: There will be a shift in the values that are considered central. The things that we value now will be displaced and other values, of a lesser sort, will become the be-all and end-all of society and culture.
MAXIMUS: That doesn’t sound too bad. At least this twenty-first century society still holds to some values, right?
CLAUDIUS: Maximus, giving inflated priority to secondary values is one of the favourite strategies of Satan! It is a sure way of compromising the truth, of putting the true and the good in false opposition to each other. What are the things that you consider to be central?
MAXIMUS: The fact that God created me in his image and likeness and redeemed me. That I have a supernatural soul. That I am invited to respond to God for his blessings. That my correct response to God involves living life according to the model of discipleship given by Christ. That this includes self-sacrifice for God and others, which involves treating them in a respectful manner that will help them realise their dignity as children of God. That . .
CLAUDIUS: Hold, hold! That’s quite enough! What is clear here is that everything begins with God, who created you in his image and likeness, and redeemed you. Then you respond to him by living appropriately. And this necessarily includes a certain way of treating others, with complete respect for their dignity.
MAXIMUS: Right. And what kind of values will the twenty-first century have?
CLAUDIUS: They will erase virtually everything of what you said, including anything that has to do with God. The depth and transcendent nature of Christian behaviour is stripped down to a single tenet: to show respect towards others.
MAXIMUS: Well, at least they show respect towards others. That’s a good start, isn’t it?
CLAUDIUS: Respect towards others is absolutely essential for a Christian, Maximus, but it is something derivative. It has its origin in the fact that we are children of God. Therefore, we each have this precious dignity that demands respect. If “respect” is stripped away from its transcendent foundation, which is the truth that I have been created by God, then it can be used to attack things that are genuinely good. For example, children as they mature are sometimes temporarily confused about their sexual orientation. The twenty-first century movement that demands “respect” for everyone’s sexual orientation will insist that these children be given hormone-changing drugs, or even non-reversible surgical operations, permitting these children to have bodies that reflect their perceived sexual orientation.
MAXIMUS: But how can the permission by society for the mutilation of children constitute an act of “respect”?
CLAUDIUS: That is exactly the point. Satan has no respect for humanity! It is the classic case of the perversion of a genuine virtue by cutting it off from its grounding in a transcendent truth. Talk of “respect” will be used to raise smoke and to conceal the truth about human nature. If we had real respect for people, then we would teach them the truth about their nature, that they have complementary genders whose union reflects the fertile and creative image of the divine.
MAXIMUS: So a society that kills children in the womb, uses baby body parts for medicine and cosmetics, permits children to mutilate their bodies permanently because of feelings. I’m sorry Claudius, it just doesn’t seem possible to me.
CLAUDIUS: That’s not even half of what I saw! Nations will legalise the killing of people who are suffering from various illnesses. This will give rise to situations where elderly people will feel themselves a burden on their families and will voluntarily submit themselves to be killed.
MAXIMUS: But the greatest blessing a family can have is to look after loved ones who are sick! Why would they consider it a burden? It sounds like people in the twenty-first century live very self-serving lives.
CLAUDIUS: Even children who are ill will be killed. The incredible thing is that all of these monstrous things will be done in the name of “compassion”. “Compassion” will be used to justify everything, from the slaughter of children in the womb, to the killing of the sick, to the mutilation of the bodies of gender-confused children.
MAXIMUS: Surely compassion involves acting for the good of another person? What is good for them arises from the truth of who they are, creatures who do not have the right to choose who lives and who dies. How can we act for their good if we reject the truth of their nature, the truth about their infinite dignity?
CLAUDIUS: There are other things I saw, Maximus. Marriages between people of the same gender. The indoctrination of children in schools with ideologies that contradict the foundations of an anthropology based on natural law.
MAXIMUS: Clearly, these visions concern a society in which Christianity is rejected and persecuted, like our situation a few years ago.
CLAUDIUS: No, that is the most surprising thing! Yes, the twenty-first century will see great persecutions of Christians in non-Christian countries, but these visions concern nations in which Christianity is the majority religion. Prominent Christians will claim that the separation of Church and state compels them to support the availability of abortion to those who want it. In fact, the most powerful nation on earth will have a Christian leader, one who belongs to our Church, and he will be an ardent supporter of abortion, same-gender marriage, the ideological indoctrination of children, and other matters that are incompatible with Christianity.
MAXIMUS: So nations that are actually led by Christians will kill their children, use baby body parts for medicine and cosmetics, mutilate the bodies of their children to conform with gender ideology, kill the old and the suffering - even sick children - refer to unions between people of the same gender as “marriage”.
CLAUDIUS: Yes, and all of these practices will be permitted in the name of things like “compassion”, “respect”, “tolerance”, “equality”. The most monstrous behaviours will be justified as if they were exemplary virtues. In fact, these societies will constantly praise themselves for their enlightened morality and harshly denounce anyone who seeks to uphold a transcendent vision of humanity.
MAXIMUS: Maybe this is what St Paul’s was referring to in his prophecy: “Don’t let anyone deceive you, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 3-4)