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A Man For All Seasons: How a Great Man and a Great Film Have Lessons for Us Now

Summary:
Persecution of Christians Begins and Intensifies Among the astonishing incidents I never expected to see in America, recent attacks against Christians, either going to church or engaging in peaceful protests are profoundly disturbing to say the least. Gateway Pundit posted this article recently, “It’s 1950 All Over Again…Black Family Harassed, Abused by Radical Leftists While Trying to Enter Church in New York” with the following Twitter post (which as of this writing hasn’t been removed yet): “The BLM mob was screaming ‘We’re not here for violence!’ as they dragged parishioners from the church steps!” While we opened our doors to those who hate us and made violent threats…we are saddened that they would so blatantly lie, race

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Persecution of Christians Begins and Intensifies

Among the astonishing incidents I never expected to see in America, recent attacks against Christians, either going to church or engaging in peaceful protests are profoundly disturbing to say the least. Gateway Pundit posted this article recently, “It’s 1950 All Over Again…Black Family Harassed, Abused by Radical Leftists While Trying to Enter Church in New York” with the following Twitter post (which as of this writing hasn’t been removed yet):

“The BLM mob was screaming ‘We’re not here for violence!’ as they dragged parishioners from the church steps!”

Another article posted “Godless BLM Protest Mob Targets NY Church – Attacks Christians on Church Steps, Including Mother with Baby, Shouts Down Pastor Screaming “Black Lives Matter” During Sermon (VIDEO)

Here are videos on BitChute, since YouTube will likely take them down:

On July 7th, 2020:  Black Lives Matter harasses white church going family with young children.

From Catholic Vids: Mob Attacks Saint Louis Statue, But Brave Catholics Defend It

Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit, who organized a peaceful protest defending the statue of Saint Louis is interview in a BitChute video that is not on YouTube since it is affiliated with Alex Jones:

Jim Hoft: Catholics Beaten While Praying, MSN Completely Ignores

This Tweet is titled: “This is what happens when you say the Rosary in Saint Louis”:

And then there is this article: “‘Actually Knocked Me Out’ – Catholic Victim Speaks Out After Brutal Beating by Leftist with Brass Knuckles at St. Louis Statue.”

A Man For All Seasons: How a Great Man and a Great Film Have Lessons for Us Now

Challenging Church Leaders

People are also challenging the leaders of their churches for conduct that supports “Only Black Lives Matter” as Mike Rozeff has named them. Becky Ackers has written about the issues facing Christians when their churches submit to government. This article, “Did a Greek Archbishop March to Destroy Icons?” makes the point, “Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Archdiocese attended a Black Lives Matter march in Brooklyn at the invitation of a couple of local politicians. The official press release is at the Orthodox Observer. The academics over at Public Orthodoxy wrote a glowing article about the event.” The author has every right to be troubled by the Archbishop’s conduct:

The Archbishop’s remarks were fine, as far they went. But there were some important things missing that one would expect from an Orthodox bishop given such a national audience.

The Orthodox Christian faith has deep, deep roots in Africa. The lives of multiple African saints are preserved in the Church as examples for all. More than ever before, all Americans need Christ and His Church. Imagine how impressive it would have been had the Archbishop carried an icon of Black Orthodox Saints as he marched. His Eminence could have used the march as the ultimate teaching moment. Using one image, he could have explained the position of the Church concerning racism, and called on those present (of any race or religious background) to come home to the Orthodox Faith. How wonderful would it have been to pray over those in attendance in the name of the Holy Trinity and to invite them all to experience the faith of those wonderful African saints?

Black Saints matter, now more than ever.

A Man For All Seasons: How a Great Man and a Great Film Have Lessons for Us Now

But His Eminence did not carry an icon or even a cross. Nor did he seem to mention Jesus or the need for all of us to repent of our sins and be reconciled one with another. One of the greatest opportunities for Orthodox Evangelism on this continent seems to have been mostly wasted. The Archbishop’s remarks, as quoted in the media, could have been made by any politician, civic leader, or trendy college professor…

There is another problem with the Archbishop’s participation in this march. “Black Lives Matter” is more than just a slogan or a #hashtag. There is an actual organization by that name whose goals are distinctly anti-Christian. Black Lives Matters is a Marxist organization. While it does protest for police reform (a very worthy goal), its agenda is much broader. Among the policy positions BLM (as an organization) supports:

        Abortion on demand

        Implementation of Marxist economic policies

        Promotion of homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality

        Disruption of the nuclear family

Finally, the mob has now come for the statue of a Roman Catholic Saint, St. Junipero Serra, who was known for his heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California. Neither that benevolent reputation nor the cross in his right hand did anything to save him.  His statue now lies covered in red paint, while obscenities desecrate the pedestal on which it once stood.

The Christian author of this essay on Jagged World, “A New State-Run Church” feels, I think, betrayed:

All participants were required to wear masks upon entering and told to sit in designated sections where we were safely distanced from other worshipers who longed to receive the Lord’s gifts. Everyone complied. There were no issues. Then the pastor said this, “As our county has allowed us to once again meet in person it has provided very detailed instructions on just how we are to conduct our worship today. We have taken steps to change our normal practice to meet the guidelines we’ve been given.” He went on to describe how the service would work. There would be no congregational singing or sharing of the peace. The procedure for communion, when the time came, in which we were served by the faithful wearing masks, gloves and even a face shield, handed the host with tongs to prevent contact and a sort of self-service station to take the wine in individual plastic cups.

There was something unsettling about all this. I suppose I ought to have applauded the resiliency of a congregation that went to great lengths to ensure everyone’s safety. But I could not shake the idea that a congregation which had closed its doors at the threat of the government and now opened them only by government permission, was somehow different. The language the pastor used made it clear that the state now had a say in the actual practice which goes on inside a place of worship.

And posted on the Catholic site The Remnant, “Black Lives, White Supremacy, and Red Blood” the author rightly notes:

By the same token, a BLM leader from New York recently gave an interview in which he praised Jesus for being a black liberator killed by a white government, but this denies the divinity and the humanity of Christ in a kind of jujitsu Arianism I think may be new on the heresy list. The same poisoned mindset that denies that black babies are people also denies that Christ is worth following unless He is black. Anyone who sets race up as a defining characteristic is committing a sin against God. Anyone who sets race up as a category for God Himself is sinning against God in a most egregious way.

This is probably why the two watchwords of the present moment unsettle me so. In both of these strange sayings, “white supremacy” and “black lives,” we find the denial of individual, unrepeatable person-hood, the almost frantic attempt to erase the soul and focus on some, at best, incidental aspect of the body, namely that it can be called white or black. But even this is nonsense, as I challenge the reader to find anyone who is truly white—not taupe, not ecru—or truly black—not chestnut, not teak. Once we lose the myth of bichromalism, then the myth of groupism falls with it in the same swoop. And once those myths are evaporated we are forced to confront the real, live, eternally-souled human being in front of us, who is neither genus nor species embodied but who is, simply, a man or a woman, a child, a baby boy or girl, a fetus furiously plumping up to be born.

Why Is This Happening?

There are many opinions out there why things have changed so much; Hieromonk Gabriel provides here as good an answer as any because perhaps so many people in our world—not just America, but in the West, Russia, and of course those nations that reject Christianity—are not thankful to God. Atheists are honored in the West and celebrated. Hieromonk Gabriel writes eloquently, and references George Washington, in “On Gratitude, Modern Utopianism, and the Cross of Christ”:

How many of us imitate the Prophet Job, saying “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” And how many of us remember that the evils of this life are given to us as signposts, pointing us beyond this fallen and fading world toward our homeland which is in Heaven, toward the Jerusalem which is on high? How many of us recognize that even the blessings of this life are mere foretastes of the joy laid up for us in the Kingdom of God? How many of us remember the saying of our Lord: “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”? All too often our treasure is a merely earthly treasure, and our hearts are held fast by the trinkets of this world. And all too often when we are deprived of such treasures, gratitude is the absolute furthest thing from our heart.

Why are these things so, even for so many of us Christians? Why can we perceive the love of God so dimly in His blessings, and in His chastisements not at all? The answer, in large part, is that we have been seduced by narrative of modernity.

And so, ironically, the “Problem of Evil” which has so often plagued Christians returns in even greater force to plague the utopianism of Antichristianity. As long as there is evil in this world, it is a sign that there is something wrong with the cosmic order, a sign that we have been deprived of our rights, a sign that there remains some injustice which must yet be rooted out. And in such a worldview, how could gratitude for suffering be considered anything other than the chief of all sins? Such gratitude is literally sacrilege, an unholy desecration of the dream of a perfect and perfectly just world.

There is indeed some resemblance between the modern worldview and true Christianity, for otherwise such a worldview could have no hold on the hearts of those created in the image and likeness of God. Yes, Christianity is a religion of love, and of mercy, and of brotherhood. Yes, Christianity is a religion that promises nothing short of the paradise for which our hearts all truly yearn.

But it is also the religion of the Cross.

And it is precisely the Cross that has been eradicated from modernity, and from the modern Christianity which has been swept away by it. And for us modern children who would be faithful to Christ and to His Church in the midst of those seeking to once again build Babel, there is one bulwark, one firm foundation, one divine weapon of truth which has the power to withstand and demolish all the lies of the modern world: gratitude for the Cross.

Tertullian famously remarked that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” But I think that it was not simply the act of martyrdom itself which shook the pagan world to its core and brought about its conversion, but above all the profound joy and gratitude shown forth by those great Christian men and women when they were brutally persecuted, shamed, tortured, and put to death.

Truly, “the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

But what also should be familiar to readers of LewRockwell.com are the articles on the crimes of Washington, cheered on by the American public: bombing campaigns that resulted in the deaths of millions of people, from Yugoslavia under Bill Clinton, to Iraq, then Libya and Syria. Writers such as Lawrence Vance have written on the militarization of churchesI was astonished to see on this site, which featured an excellent review of Surprised by Christa book in which the author’s research found most likely the ancient Jews of Jesus’s time whose Christians’ descendants are alive in the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, support of the militarism of Donald Trump, a blog post titled “We Have the Flag” which featured this picture of President Trump.

A Man For All Seasons: How a Great Man and a Great Film Have Lessons for Us Now

And in his essay, “American Apostasy,” Hieromonk Gabriel explains more eloquently than I could, and with greater wisdom and authority:

The true crisis is now, as it has ever been, within us; it is our acceptance or rejection of Christ. Christ is our crisis; He demands from us all or nothing, and this ‘problem’ He presents us is the only one that need be answered….Do we choose God, Who alone IS, or ourselves, who without God are nothing?—this is our only choice. Our age would have us deny, forget, neglect the question; and this is to choose ourselves, nothingness, the abyss, Hell. Our age is founded on nothingness; but this nothingness, inexplicably to us, presents, for those who can still perceive, the crisis of all men in all ages most clearly and unmistakably. Our age tells us, if we can listen, to choose the living God.

Those whose hearts yearn for truth, goodness, and beauty—those whose hearts yearn for Christ—can no longer find any rest in the empty ruins of a shattered Christendom. The glittering facade of a false, comfortable and worldly pseudo-Christianity can no longer pretend to satisfy their souls. For many centuries the beauty of Christendom lingered on in the West even after men’s faith had died, but that beauty has long been hollow, and now is finally fading away. It has left behind a world of pain and emptiness—there is a reason why America, Canada and Western Europe consume 95% of the world’s opioid supply. As St. Augustine wrote many centuries ago: “For whithersoever the soul of man turns itself, unless toward Thee, it is riveted upon sorrows, yea though it is riveted on things beautiful.”

But glory be to God. Sorrow is not the end of the story. Our own worst sins are often the very things that bring us to repentance. Humanity’s crucifixion of God Himself opened the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven. And it is our very death that leads us into life everlasting. Truly ineffable is the mercy and the love of our God.

If there has been any good that has resulted from the violent attacks on Christians statues and Christians attempting to worship, it is that people of various denominations are communicating and supporting one another in this time when there are those who are pursuing a violent nihilistic agenda, and their faith is growing stronger, even if their bewilderment and suffering grows. Rod Dreher has written on the American Conservative “What Can The Church Say Today?” about his correspondence with an Evangelical Christian and “For Christians, It Really Is A Catastrophe” in which he reproduces correspondence from a Catholic priest (although he wanted to remain anonymous) and a Catholic teacher. All are distraught at recent events.

The Good That Is Happening Now Along with the Bad

Providentially, in this time of hostility and lawlessness, I found a Christian website that reminded me of the superb film A Man For All Seasons, based on the play of the same title written by Robert Bolt and staring one of the greatest British Shakespearean actors, Sir Paul Scofield, a baptized Roman Catholic. Unlike films that are “blockbusters” in our century, this film is superbly acted, thoughtful, powerful and appeals not only to the mind but to the heart; there are no explosions, CGI visual effects and comic book heroes and villains fighting and killing; there are only truly astonishing portrayals of human beings.

I wonder how many now will seek the film out. As the encyclopedia entry on the film notes, “A Man For All Seasons struggles with ideas of identity and conscience. More argues repeatedly that a person is defined by his conscience…This, along with More’s refusal to actually speak out against the King, shows him to be a loyal subject, and thus Cromwell appears to prosecute him out of personal spite and because he disagrees with the King’s divorce…Bolt also establishes an anti-authoritarian theme which recurs throughout his works. All people in positions of power—King Henry, Cromwell, Wolsey, Cranmer, Chapuys, even Norfolk—are depicted as being either corrupt, evil, or at best expedient and power-hungry. Bolt’s later plays and film screenplays also delve into this theme.”

However, in his article “Of Wrath and Righteousness” posted on the blog Remembering Sion of the Holy Cross Monastery posted on June 25, 2020, Hieromonk Gabriel posted a video excerpt from A Man For All Seasons to remind us all of something crucial and he writes:

Across the country historical monuments, often associated with the Civil War, are being defaced and torn down by mobs. Given that slavery is believed by many people to have been the sole reason the Civil War was fought, it is quite understandable that they therefore view monuments to Confederate leaders as an intolerable affront (and I think this is a good reason to consider removing them, out of love for neighbor and desire for peace)…Even a statue of the abolitionist activist Hans Christian Heg was decapitated and thrown into a lake (apparently because the mob didn’t actually have any idea who he was). Not spared either were monuments to Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or Christopher Columbus. It is not my contention that any of these men were flawless. Nor is it the purpose of this article to take a position one way or the other as to whether any of these statues ought to be removed. This is a discussion worth having, and there are points on both sides to be considered. But there is something deeply disturbing about roving mobs desecrating monuments to the honored dead because the mob judges that their entire life and their entire memory ought to be reduced solely to the sum of their sins.

The acceptance of lawlessness, even if it is in the pursuit of a righteous cause, is not something to be taken lightly. We would do well to take heed in this regard to the warning given by Sir Thomas More in the incomparable film A Man For All Seasons:

A Man For All Seasons—Clip “Give The Devil Benefit Of Law”

Perhaps this fictional Thomas More gives us an understanding of Romans 13 in context: in this world the law is a protection, or should be, if it is upheld and honored by authorities who fear God and who are righteous; without law, violence and mob rule are an almost a certainty for Jesus’s Christ’s Kingdom of Heaven is unlikely in this world governed by the prince of lies. Yet understand that Saint Paul in his time was not prevented from spreading the Gospel throughout the realm of Rome, whose laws and courts, despite their flaws, protected him and did not hinder him until the end under Nero.

In this biography of Saint Louis, we learn “Louis, a follower of St. Francis of Assisi, was known for his ardent piety and sanctity. Unlike other Kings who gave customary offerings to the poor, Louis invited the poor to his own table each day, where he waited on them and attended to their needs. His personal interest in the poor led to the founding of numerous charitable institutions including hospitals for the destitute and lepers. Known as the ‘Peace King’, he managed to mediate between the popes and the German Emperors which kept France out of war. As a Ruler, he dispensed justice fairly and with great attention to the needs of his subjects. He was known for his scrupulous honesty.” The Saint is most certainly an example of an earthly authority to be obeyed and respected.

I would also argue that the martyred Czar Nicholas II, who was canonized, in his actual deeds, which have been erased by hostile British and Western propaganda, was also a pious Christian ruler, who helped those in need, and as detailed in this book, “Nicholas’ deep religious feelings were also reflected in his desire to bring the principles of Christianity to bear on his foreign policy. Beginning in 1898 he addressed the leaders of other European States with a proposal to call a conference aimed at discussing the preservation of peace and a limitation on armaments. The results of his strivings were the Hague Conventions in 1899 and 1907, which laid the groundwork for the Geneva Convention. For his efforts, Tsar Nicholas was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.” These facts are absent from most histories, especially a recent British propaganda piece that was literally obscene in its depiction and aired on Netflix. Articles here and here attempt to set the record straight as well on the much maligned Tsar who with his martyred family was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.

In any event, my brief interpretation about understanding the Romans 13 not to be an endorsement of those who persecute Christians and to obey authority at all times under all circumstances, than a necessary evil in the world as it is now is less relevant than the core thesis of the essay “Of Wrath and Righteousness,” with which I suspect echoes much of the thesis in the film, at least in how Thomas More is portrayed:

And the winds are indeed beginning to blow. Reports are coming in at a steady pace of people from all professions losing their jobs and their careers for being insufficiently vocal in their support for the social justice movement. The editor of the New York Times op-ed section was ousted because he published a US Senator’s opinion that the government ought to stop the rioting with force if necessary. The Catholic chaplain of MIT was asked by his diocese to resign for writing a private email to his flock urging restraint and charity in our dealings with one another during these difficult times, even while condemning the killing of Floyd by the police. These are but a few examples. And this is to say nothing of the way in which Americans are treating one another on social media. It seems that the America described in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is still a part of us: a Puritanical America which seeks to hunt down sinners and destroy their lives through public humiliation and shame.

The yearning of the American people for righteousness is truly honorable and praiseworthy and necessary. But tragically, it seems that many of us have been convinced that the path to righteousness is through rage. And quite simply, this is very far from the path shown to us by Christ.

And both Christ and the society in which He lived were by no means strangers to injustice and persecution and unrighteousness. The Israelites under the Roman occupation were a subjugated and humiliated people, routinely exploited and without the rights of Roman citizens, and Christ Himself as well as most of His followers were brutally and unjustly murdered by the authorities acting with complete impunity. Everyone — even the disciples — expected Christ to do something about it, to cast off the hated oppressors, to “at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel.”

Yet what did Christ actually do? He taught us that when we are beaten we are to turn the other cheek, when we are extorted we are to give more than is demanded, when we are exploited we are to do more than we are told. He told us to bless those who curse us, to love those who hate us, to pray for those who persecute us and abuse us. And He told us, in the midst of all of these things, to rejoice.

His words were not mere empty talk; He proved that on the Cross. Nor were His teachings in vain; He proved that through the Resurrection. Nor was He Himself an exception to the rule of human existence; He proved that on the Day of Pentecost.

May God grant us these gifts. May He grant us His Spirit of Peace. May He grant us to love one another, even as He first loved us, with a love sparing nothing — not even our own lives — for even the worst and least deserving among us. This is the new commandment of Christianity, and there is absolutely nothing that the world needs more.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

Saint Thomas More understood and lived these words of Saint James, although I realize A Man For All Seasons is brilliant historical fiction. Yes, persecutions of Christians have come and will continue to come. Yet as Father James Thornton has written:

St. John of Kronstadt asks in one of his homilies, “But why does the world persecute the true faith, piety, and righteousness which are so salutary for people, introducing as they do unity, mutual love, good morals, peace, quiet, and order into fragmented human societies?”[6] He answers his question in these words: “Because the whole world lieth in wickedness,[7] people love evil more than good[8], and the prince of this world,[9] the devil … despises righteousness with infernal loathing and persecutes it because it denounces injustice. Evil, debauched people have always hated the righteous and persecuted them, and they will go on hating and persecuting them.”[10]

So we see, then, that persecution can take many forms and that it is an instrument of the Evil One in his war against God and against humanity, directed towards separating man from God.

How, we may ask, does the Christian react to persecution? The Christian strives, first of all, for righteousness, that is, for a life filled with virtue. Doing that, the Christian will be worthy of persecution. If one is nominally a Christian, but never experiences any sort of persecution, not even petty persecution, for the sake of righteousness, then one must ask if he is really striving for virtue, or if his Christianity is all simply a matter of empty, external observances. Next, the Christian will develop within his heart a complete trust in God and a deep love for God’s truth. He will be resolute in his faith and thus never yield to error or compromise with evil, threats notwithstanding. His hope will be focused on God, regardless of the suffering he may have to endure. Finally, he will face the future courageously, knowing that, when all is said and done, God will shield his soul and bring him to safe harbor. In the early centuries of Christianity, and during the Ottoman Yoke and the Communist Yoke, all ages and classes of people, including “both young men and maidens; old men and children,”[11] faced unspeakable horrors without flinching, with the calm bravery of the best combat soldiers. We must be prepared to do precisely the same, whatever form the persecution inflicted upon us might take.

[7] 1 St. John 5:19

[8] Psalm 51:5.

[9] St. John 12:31. 14:30, 16:11.

[10] St John of Kronstadt, Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes, p. 88.

[11] Psalm 148:12.

Let we Christians show the courage and faith Saint Thomas More displayed; we can do no less, even if we shall suffer a martyr’s fate for our beliefs. And let us remember the wisdom of Blessed Augustine, whom Hieromonk Gabriel quotes in “We Shall See Christ:

***

So it is true that the Lord, the light of the world, has ascended up into heaven, leaving behind Him a darkened earth which increasingly demands a self-inflicted blindness. A sad and bitter truth it is indeed.

But it is not the whole truth. St. Augustine, in the same passage from the Confessions, writes: ‘He departed from our sight that we might return to our hearts and find Him there. For He left us, and behold, He is here. He could not be with us long, yet He did not leave us. He went back to the place that He had never left… He is within the inmost heart, yet the heart has wandered away from Him. Return to your heart, O you transgressors, and hold fast to Him who made you. Stand with Him and you shall stand fast. Rest in Him and you shall be at rest…’

The rest of the truth (perhaps an even harder truth) is that we ourselves, the feeble Christians of the last days, are now called to shine forth the light of Christ for anyone who still wishes to see. We have been healed in Holy Baptism of our ancestral blindness. But it is still left to us to choose, with God’s help, to open our eyes, to use the sight that has been restored to us to look into our hearts, where alone the risen Christ can be seen in this world. If we Christians do not find Him there, then how will anyone else ever find Him?

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