A few years ago, a respected Chronicles editor disagreed with my judgment on the behavior of a deceased Trappist abbot who had repeatedly bowed down in a mosque to the god of the unhappy Saracens in order to chum it up with his Mohammedan neighbors. I wrote that this constituted apostasy, and he wrote back that one could not know this, since one could not know what was in the man’s heart. His forgetting that a Christian’s confession of faith is by nature a public act, and that denying one’s faith by public gesture brings eternal consequences—regardless of whatever mental games one may be playing with oneself—puzzled me. Though I knew, of course, that the magazine’s writers held differing confessional convictions, I had never regarded Chronicles as a haven for religious or philosophical subjectivism.
By contrast, Aaron D. Wolf’s exhorting us to Make Christendom Great Again (“No Time for Indulgences,” Heresies, November) by fighting like men over orthodoxy and heresy delighted me. The Lord commands us to do it, and what could be more fun, anyway? Ecumenist Roman Catholics depress me by simpering over the juxtaposition of my cassock and wedding ring, and whining that they do not have married priests. I tell them that their clergy’s problem is not celibacy but apostasy. Hard-core Ultramontanes tell me that I am damned, and it makes my day.
I hate minority entitlement, and therefore I shall not complain, though I do point out, that Mr. Wolf’s column ignores the Orthodox. The Orthodox in the United States deserve to be ignored, being content chiefly with ethnic food festivals and building magnificent churches they do not attend. Orthodoxy remains, however, the True Faith nonetheless. Pope Leo XIII aptly said that nothing benefits more than looking at a problem here below as it really is, while looking up above to solve it. The papalists and Protestants will never solve their problem as long as they remain papalists and Protestants, diving ever headlong and ever further out in the centrifugal descent begun a thousand years ago, away from the supercelestial and only unitive Source of Truth.
This Western error released Christians from the constricting labor of the undeceived inner life and thereby unleashed the worldliness that created the glorious sensate culture we inherited from our second-millennium forbears. Today, however, this culture is utterly exhausted, having at last devoured the spiritual capital it retained from the first millennium, and it is going to be very dead very soon. Orthodoxy alone holds the key to the door back into the hidden garden of the heart, from whence alone the West will be reborn. May it be so.
—Fr. Steve Allen
St. Irene Orthodox Church
Rochester Hills, MI
Mr. Wolf Replies:
A respected former editor taught me, indirectly and unintentionally, that the surest sign that someone is about to start whining is when he begins with “I shall not complain, though . . . ” I’m surprised that the damnation of St. Anselm didn’t come up, as it always does with you Orthodox.
All kidding aside, I am grateful to Father Steve for his appreciation of my piece and its tone. At least one reader thought the column merited (rimshot!) my firing, but I reached out to him, and soon the paleo oil of unity flowed again from the beard of Aaron.
The whole affair reminded me of an episode that I consider the greatest ecumenical moment in Chronicles’ history. Some 17 years ago, flaming papist Chris Check, evangelical Dave Dobson, and Lutheran yours truly arrived in a small Italian hilltop village on one of Tom Fleming’s extravagant overseas junkets. He was not there to advise us: At the previous stop, he’d misread an Italian street sign, parked in a no-parking zone, and impertinent Italian ruffians and ne’er-do-wells had beaten the hell out of his rental car with baseball bats. Utterly ignorant of the customs of the locals, I drove our intact Fiat Punto the wrong way up a cobblestone one-way, during strolling hour (when no traffic either way is allowed). Suddenly, the Carabinieri appeared, armed with what looked like AK-47s, tap-tapped on the window with a rifle barrel, and ordered us out of the vehicle. Despite Captain Check’s attempt to speak English to them in an exaggerated Sonny Corleone accent, we were not communicating, and the cops were getting ready to arrest us. Suddenly, as if straight from the Aerial Toll House, Serbian-Orthodox Srdja Trifkovic appeared out of nowhere. He scusi-scusi’d them and began to offer what seemed to be an apology on our behalf. As he spoke further, they all began to laugh, and finally the Carabinieri dismissed us with a wave of the hand: “Go.” I asked Srdja what he told them. He replied, “A Catholic, a Lutheran, and an evangelical walk into a bar . . . ” It was unity in the essential nonessentials, par excellence.
I’ll leave Father Steve’s heresies and historical revisionism alone and allow him his moment in the Western sun. But let me say this. My article illustrates the fact that, despite accusations to the contrary, Chronicles is not a Roman Catholic magazine. (There are plenty of those.) What it is is a magazine in which Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, evangelicals—even Orthodox—can be themselves.