Official preacher of the Pontifical Household, Fr. Cantalamessa once made reference to the growing concern that we live in a post-Christian world. He said that if the New Evangelization is to have the same success as the Original Evangelization of the Apostles and Church Fathers, we have to consider their “methods and means” which brought about a Christian civilization. “Such means,” he said, “were fundamentally the announcement ‘in Spirit and power’ of the Paschal mystery of Christ dead and risen, united to the testimony of life.”
The pre-Christian world bears much similarity to the post-Christian world we live in today. However, I would have to add that our challenges as twenty-first Christians are more formidable. Catholic historian, Hilaire Belloc, tells us why:
“The Old Paganism had a strong sense of the supernatural. This sense was often turned to the wrong objects and always to insufficient objects, but it was keen and unfailing; all the poetry of the Old Paganism, even where it despairs, has this sense … The New Paganism delights in superficiality, and conceives that it is rid of the evil as well as the good in what it believes to have been superstitions and illusions … Men do not live long without gods; but when the gods of the New Paganism come they will not be merely insufficient, as were the gods of Greece, nor merely false; they will be evil … ”
In the ancient world the early Christians knew what they were being saved from. Pagan immorality was constantly on display in the Roman Empire. Slavery was a well established institution; human sacrifices had been a ritual in every continent; not just abortion, but infanticide was a socially accepted practice; blood sports- that is, gladiator games -required human fatalities in order for the masses to be entertained; women were second class citizens, having no rights over their fathers or husbands; and the birthrate dropped precipitously because children were seen as a liability rather than a blessing. And if that weren't enough, the third century was beset with political turmoil. In fact, there were 31 Roman Emperors during that same century with only 6 having died a natural death. This was fallen humanity before the Gospel took root.
With that said, the New Evangelization, if it is to rise to the challenge of the New Paganism and bear similar fruits of the Apostles and Church Fathers (the “Old” Evangelization), it would do well, as Fr. Cantalamessa indicated, to use their “methods and means.” But such “means and methods” cannot be reduced to preaching and teaching only. The early Christians had different pastoral practices and disciplines; certain attitudes towards their own Faith and other religions that are markedly different from today’s Christians.
Next week: Evangelization: Differences between the new and the old (part II)