“But, while the signs of the times led to the anticipation that a struggle was impending between the heads of the state religion and of the new worship which was taking its place, the great body of Christians, laymen and ecclesiastics, were on better and better terms, individually, with the members of society, or what is now called the public; and without losing their faith or those embers of charity which favourable circumstances would promptly rekindle, were, it must be confessed, in a state of considerable relaxation”
“the families of Christian parents might grow up with so little of moral or religious education as to make it difficult to say why they called themselves members of a divine religion. Mixed marriages would increase both the scandal and the confusion.”
“A long repose…had corrupted the discipline which had come down to us. Every one was applying himself to the increase of wealth; and, forgetting both the conduct of the faithful under the Apostles, and what ought to be their conduct in every age, with insatiable eagerness for gain devoted himself to the multiplying of possessions…The hearts of the simple were misled by treacherous artifices, and brethren became entangled in seductive snares. Ties of marriage were formed with unbelievers; members of Christ abandoned to the heathen…Numerous bishops, who ought to be an encouragement and example to others, despising their sacred calling, engaged themselves in secular vocations, relinquished their sees, deserted their people, strayed among foreign provinces, hunted the markets for mercantile profits, and tried to amass large sums of money, while they had brethren starving within the Church; took possession of estates by fraudulent proceedings, and multiplied their gains by accumulated usuries.”
“Vocations became scarce; sees remained vacant; congregations died out.”
Each generation of Christians has claimed their peers the most corrupt and immoral to have ever lived. The quotes above could easily be applied to our world today, especially the United States, where Christianity is an accepted and “normal” religion. However, these quotes come from Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman‘s Callista: A Tale of the Third Century. This passage describes a reprieve in the persecution of early Christians. I was astonished to discover how accurately these words describe the society I live in. This leads me to wonder if we are also too relaxed.
James advises us to: “Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Should we desire persecution and trials to rekindle our zeal? At the end of this chapter of Callista, Newman writes that Christianity is “seen to differ from all other religious varieties by that irrational and disgusting obstinacy, as it was felt to be, which had rather suffer torments and lose life than submit to some graceful, or touching, or at least trifling observance which the tradition of ages had sanctioned.” Choosing to follow Christ means choosing to take up His cross. When we begin to shy away from difficulties and become too comfortable, too complacent in faith, we begin to lose the discipline which allows us to withstand temptation and resist sin.
Since we are exploring the roots of sin, what is at the root of this indifference, this relaxation of faith? As I introduced in my last post, we will turn to the desert fathers and mothers for the answer to this. Stay tuned for more!