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Can any good thing come out of Buenos Aires?

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Can any good thing come out of Buenos Aires?

(Notes on Fr Leonardo Castellani and the End of Times)

Introducing Fr Castellani
Because he’s quite unknown to the English-speaking public, I would very much like to introduce Fr Leonardo Castellani to English-speaking readers, an Argentine Jesuit born at the turn of the XIXth. century (1899) who died in Buenos Aires, in 1981.
Why? Why do I venture to write about this rather obscure character seeing that English-speaking Christians have so many classic authors to read, such as Newman, Benson, Belloc, Chesterton, Lewis and more recent ones in nearly the same league such as Peter Kreeft? Well, the short of it is because this unknown Argentine has written about one or two things that I’ve never seen considered by those authors—nor by anyone else for that matter. Castellani is an original (a word, by the way, that evokes a going back to one’s origins). Of course, he followed suit― in all his works you can always detect “de la suite dans les idées”, a certain harmony with every Christian in history who was willing to fight for the Church, be it St Augustine or Ronald Knox. Castellani was fiercely in love with truth, and from there stemmed his unbending loyalty to Tradition. But, perhaps more importantly for us, his original insights seem to be very relevant to our times.
How come? one could easily ask. Well, let’s take a brief look into his life.
A quite prolific author (he authored more that 1.000 journalistic articles and about 50 books, never translated into English), Castellani has had a very important influence on Argentine Catholics concerned with the Church and its stand in the modern world, mainly owing to his, as I say, very orthodox views aired in an original style.
During the ‘30’s, Castellani studied as a Jesuit in Europe, firstly Theology in Rome (at the Gregoriana where he was under Cardinal's Billot tutorship), moving later to Paris where he obtained a “Petit Doctorat” in Psychology: his resulting thesis is a very interesting piece on the cathartic effect of St. Ignatius's Exercises (1932) very much pondered then by Jacques Maritain, among others (a reference to Castellani can be found in the second edition of “Art and Scholasticsm” where he discusses the relation between art and morals). In 1935 he came back to Argentina where he taught and wrote some very controversial articles on all sorts of subjects, but mainly on politics, sociology, philosophy, psychology and theology. His main thesis was that the Jesuits specifically but also the Church in general were in a very poor intellectual state that would eventually undermine its stand against the modern world. Par contre, Castellani was widely read and drew freely on Aquinas, Augustine, Bossuet, Lacunza, Chesterton, Belloc and C.S. Lewis among other authors. His great love was literature, especially French and British. He also knew the American great authors such as Walt Whitman, Marc Twain, T.S. Eliot and Emerson. At about forty he was quite fluent in English, French, Italian and German and could read (and write!) in Greek, Latin and, of course, Spanish. He knew a bit of Hebrew, and a little Portuguese too. In his later years he dipped into Danish to understand Kierkegaard better (the result is one of his best books).
Notwithstanding such impressive credentials and impeccable orthodoxy――in those days a priest in Buenos Aires with such widespread knowledge was quite unheard of――his writings got him into trouble with his Superiors being eventually expelled from the Society in 1949, without due process or formal prosecution. As a result, he was suspended “a divinis” and “sine die”. He had his full priesthood returned to him only twenty years afterwards―thanks to an energetic papal nuncio in Buenos Aires, who took the matter into his hands. All the same, the restitution was made silently, without any explanation for what had happened, in a “non mi ricordo”, “let bygones be bygones” manner.
From 1949 onwards and for the rest of his life he consecrated himself to write religious and literary articles in magazines and newspapers―mainly to keep body and soul together. In a sort of Leon Bloy way he lived in extreme poverty (mostly depending on his friends) until he died in 1981.
This is no place to go into much detail about the circumstances that led to his expulsion, but suffice it to say that without a proper prosecution he never had a chance of a proper defence. And that the real reasons for him being treated in this way were connected to his criticisms of the state of the Society and Church at large―a state of things that nobody wanted to hear about and that anticipated much woe for the future of the Church (any reader interested in a detailed account of his life and a good hold on Spanish can consult my biography “Castellani 1899-1949”, Bs. As., Vórtice, 2003.)
Nothing comes from nothing
He was right thirty years before Vatican II, and because of this, during thirty years was treated as a madman or a fool. But nothing changed for him afterwards; most of the progressive clerics were the old conservatives now enthusiastically backing the new horse. In any case, Castellani has been systematically ignored through and through.
I sometimes like to think that Castellani’s enemies in the (R. C.) Church were right. Let me explain myself. He contended that the Church was a boat in bad condition, it was in heavy need of repair, it leaked, the navigation was erratic and therefore he argued that it should, so to speak, stop for a while and consider carefully the maps, decide on the right course, repair the ship and then, only then, march forwards once again. In those days, such criticisms were not favourably received. As Newman himself had discovered so painfully half a century before, Castellani found the same sort of adversaries à la Ward, Faber and Talbot. The Church was right. The World was wrong. Period. No amount of arguing would make these people change their minds. Instead of discussing modern issues these people simply wanted them suppressed. They thought this was a solid way of proceeding and during that period between both Vatican’s Councils they seemed to be quite right. They stated dogmatically and hated any free discussion, they studied but superficially, clericalism was rampant, a certain Puritanism had made its way into morals―any Newman reader would know what I’m referring to. Both of them, Newman and Castellani said it a hundred times, in different ways, to no avail: one day the situation would explode.
Now, of course, we can easily see why these authors are particularly relevant to our times and their work is tremendously enlightening in so far as they denounce all sorts of bad doings in the Church before Vatican II which explain most of the debacle which followed... (nothing comes from nothing).
Again, he was not quite alone in seeing this sort of thing (I’ve just mentioned Newman, but we can also find such reservations in other twentieth-century brilliant scholars, the likes of Fr Louis Bouyer, Albert Frank-Duquesne, Fr R. L. Bruckberger, among others).
A forgotten dogma
However, to my mind what is really exceptional in Castellani’s views is that, being as he was such a good Bible scholar (and a lover of Holy Scriptures) he easily identified in the Roman Catholic Church a whole trend of thought that drifted away from one of the main dogmas (on the whole in Reformed Churches, the story runs differently).
Here’s how he puts it in one of his books:
Jesus Christ is coming back, and his doing so is one of the dogmas of our faith.
It is one of the more important dogmas that we find wedged between the fourteen articles of faith that we recite every day in the Credo and that we intone when we assist to a solemn Mass. “Et iterum venturus est cum gloria judicare vivos et mortuos”.
Also, it is a somewhat forgotten one. A splendid dogma, which few people reflect upon.
Its translation runs like this: this world will not evolve indefinitely, nor will it end by chance, as if it were to collide with a fallen star, nor will it end by natural evolution of its elementary forces or cosmic entropy as physics like to say. Instead, it will end by a direct intervention from its Creator. It will not die from a natural death, but by a violent one; or to put it better―since He is a God of life and not of death, from a miraculous death.1

But things were worse than that. Not only the modern world (and good portions of the Church) had forgotten this. They actually forgot to even consider the question.

Our world’s specific mental disease is to think that Christ will never come back; or, at the very least, to not even consider His coming.

Consequently, the modern world doesn’t understand what’s happening to it. They say Christianity has failed. Intent on saving humanity, they invent fanatical as well as atrocious systems. They are about to beget a new religion. They want to build another Babel tower that will reach unto heaven. They want to win back Paradise with their own forces.
As Hilaire Belloc described it, apparently today’s heresy doesn’t explicitly deny any one Christian dogma, only falsifies them all.
But on second thoughts it manifestly denies Christ’s Second Coming; and with that it denies his Regnancy, his Messiahship and his Divinity. In short, it denies the whole divine process of history. And in denying Christ’s Divinity it denies God Himself.
This is radical atheism dressed up with religious clothes.

As anyone can easily see, this characterises nearly every trend in our world and in the Church in our times. Think about Vatican II. Remember John XXIII's admonition against the “prophets of doom” on occasion of its formal inauguration? Think about John Paul II (or even Benedict XVI if you feel up to it). To my knowledge they have never referred to the Second Coming. And it’s not only a most important dogma of our Faith. It has been prophesied that in the last days, it would be, precisely, forgotten. With what consequences?

Consider this:

This religion has no name yet, and when it will, its name will not be its own. All Christians who do not believe in Christ’s Second Coming will yield to it. And the New Religion will make them believe in the Other one who will come before. For “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive” (Jo. V:43).

The first Pope wrote about this: “Know this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts. And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? (2 Petr. III:3-4).

All is not gold that glitters

Of course, Castellani was perceptive enough to detect some tares among the “prophets of doom” too. These days, lots of people seem to guess that some of the events taking place in the world (say 9/11, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, bird flu, etc...) anticipate terrible things for the future. But they have forgotten the Bible; they have lost their compass.

Our world is anxious for prophecy. Because of the disasters and threats of these catastrophic times, it is only natural to want to know what’s next. He who doesn’t know where he’s going cannot take a single step. Everybody is wailing, where is the world going?
False prophecies are addressed to this hunger for prophecies. It is necessary to let the right prophecies be known, for it is for that purpose that they were given to us.
False prophecies? Where are the true ones? Shouldn’t the Church be clear about this? Is there any other topic more important than this one? Why doesn’t Vatican II and the Popes since then say a word about the four last things? Shouldn’t the Church be frank and outspoken on these issues (as she was in other, better, times)? All the more because,
Some Catholics without much theology recklessly sift through private prophecies from the dangerous field of pious books.
We must, then, go back to the great primordial prophecy, Christ’s eschatological prophecy, Saint Paul’s prophecies and Saint John’s Book of Revelations.
This world will end. The end will be preceded by a great apostasy and a great affliction. After that, Christ’s Second Coming will take place, and of his Kingdom there shall be no end.
These prophecies are found firstly in what is known as our Lord’s eschatological sermon.
Anyone can find them in the synoptics. Here they are, chapter and verse: Luke, XVII:20, Mathew XXIV, 23 and Marc XIII:21.

Strong words

So much talk about this and that! When one reads all those Church documents about, I don’t know, ecumenism, altar girls, third world debt, housing and general welfare… It seems that Catholics have forgotten Jesus Christ’s admonitions and that even traditionalists have got entangled in this or this other secondary issue. I don’t say that we don’t need to address the women-priestesses or, say, abortion questions. Whatever. Everyone has to battle on every issue he can as well as he may. But Castellani reminds us that to forget Jesus’ “ipssisima verba” would render all those battles futile. Or worse―because even Antichrist could appear in a traditionalist guise (after all, he seems to be a somewhat serious guy).

Did I say “ipsissima verba Jesu”?
In their simple brevity, Christ’s words are far more fearsome than the fulgurant visions of the Book of Revelations, with its terrific scenes of blood, fire and ruins. Christ simply says that there shall be a great tribulation, one without precedent, such as has not been seen since the beginning of the world until this time, nor ever shall be―and we have seen more than one!―and that except those days should be shortened, no flesh would be saved, and that if it were possible, even the elected would perish.
The terrible wars, plagues and earthquakes that must come to pass are but the beginning of sorrows. The Sorrow itself will be even worse. Because, having ripened, the world’s iniquity will rise in all its artlessness and will draw from all its previous rehearsals, this time directed by Satan in person, who will be cast unto the earth having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. Woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! Woe unto them that remain to be riddled and winnowed out by Satan himself in the last trial!

Ancestral voices prophesying war!
As Coleridge puts it, we militant Christians cannot forget that we live in the middle of a war, and that this is no time for jejune talk. The voices are ancestral, all right. But the war is ongoing.
The two antagonic forces that battle in the world since the Fall will reach their maximum tension in their effort to prevail. The saints will be overcome and defeated everywhere. Apostasy will cover the world like the Flood. Iniquity and lies will have a free hand. The most powerful political governance ever seen will not only slaughter Religion with fire and sword, but will dress up as a false religion too. And the few remaining faithful will seem to lose their poise when, separated from the Obstacle, the Son of Perdition makes his appearance; him in which God has no part and that Christ not even deigned to name: Antichrist.... the Other one.
Here, then, One who doesn’t mince his words. This doesn’t mean, of course, as maybe our liberal friends would like to think, that we don’t have any Hope. Far from it. But facing as we do dire facts, we need strong words―and we can do without all the wishy-washy, insipid twaddle we have to listen to from all those so very politically correct “pastoral agents”, priests, Bishops, Cardinals and Popes that we have suffered for so many decades!
And the only words strong enough to face such troublesome times as those we have to live through are the Lord’s words, that are, as St Paul reminds us, “sharper than any two-edged sword”.
To talk about a “tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world” is to say a lot. It means that the Christians of those times will suffer as no one ever suffered before; not even like Job, nor Oedipus, nor Hamlet; not like Thomas Moore, Edmund Campion or Saint John of the Cross. And those Christians have already passed away; it is our turn now, or someone near us, to suffer so. Let us welcome such afflictions as long as we see Christ’s Coming once again!

Hope against hope

No, we Christians have only Hope to sustain us. That’s the real difference with our enlightened and progressive friends, that’s what differentiates the wheat from the tares.

The awesome visions of the Seer of Patmos―that Renan calls “deliriums of terror”, and Christ’s words―stronger words in their steely transparency than those used by his disciples, should induce to panic and despair were they not compensated by the most sweet promises.
As the greatest tribulation in its short span of years conveys an inordinate terror, in the same way, the conditional “were it possible” expresses the most loving promise. “Were it possible, the very elect would be deceived”, says Christ.
It is not possible, then, for the elect to fall. An Angel seals their foreheads and numbers them. God commands that the great plagues be suspended until everyone is sealed. Out of love for them, God shortens the persecution. Antichrist shall only reign for half a week of years (42 months, 1.260 days). The martyrs shall all be avenged. The ungodly shall suffer countless plagues. Two great saints will defend Christ having in hand prodigious powers. And when they fall, Christ will summon them and they will revive.

Back to Buenos Aires

Anyway, enough is enough. I’m writing this essay at home, in a small suburban town near Buenos Aires, on a cold dark evening. There’s a photograph of Father Castellani looking down at me while I pound these computer keys and fight with my dictionaries (only one “n”, right?). Just now a daughter of mine has asked me if two men can be married. She’s only nine; I wish she had never even heard about these things, not yet at any rate.

I’m a bit afraid, all right, I admit it. An Argentine Bishop has been recently caught with a hidden camera: he was having sex with a taxi boy (and, surprise, surprise, was, for the very first time, dressed in his cassock, can you believe that?). But no, things aren’t easy for anyone anywhere. I’ll be warily on the look out for new disasters on my T.V. tonight while I think about my children’s future once again. Yup. There's no denying it; I’m a bit afraid all right.
But, at the same time, I can’t quite wipe out a smile that keeps coming to my face remembering all those astringent truths Castellani insists on reminding us.
After all, we Christians think that to remember them is our main incumbency, and that anyone who thinks in unlearning and forgetting them is in the wrong, I hate to say so, business.

* * *

1 All the texts from Castellani that I quote in this essay have been translated from his book, “Cristo, ¿vuelve o no vuelve?” (Is Christ coming back―or not?), recently reprinted in Spanish (Bs. As., Vortice, 2005).

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