Just two months before his death in 1900 and 17 years before the Russian Revolution of 1917, Vladimir Soloviev, a convert to Catholicism, wrote the following to a friend; this, during a time when the general sentiment among the people was one of optimism and great expectation:
"Chaos reigns. Sleep is no longer the same. Something is happening. Someone is coming ... You may guess that by this 'Someone', I mean the Antichrist himself. The end of the world is coming and I feel it blowing in my face, clear but elusive, just as the traveler, nearing the sea, senses the sea air before he actually sees the surging waves ... ”
Unlike his peers, Soloviev anticipated new and unprecedented challenges were awaiting Christians in Russia. He continues: “The current state of the Church leads me to expect a terrible disappointment. I would be surprised even to see the liturgy remaining safe and triumphant. I sense the coming of a time when Christians will have to meet for prayer in the catacombs. Everywhere the faith will be persecuted, perhaps less brutally than in the days of Nero, but more subtly and cruelly: through lies, deception and misrepresentation. And that is hardly an overstatement. Can you not see what is afoot? I see it clearly and have done so for a long while now."
Soloviev's premonition was accurate. Lenin and the Bolsheviks, in advancing the Russian Revolution, sought to eliminate the Russian Orthodox Church. And to be sure, they enjoyed a great deal of success. For instance, the Russian Church in 1917 had 66,140 clergy members. By 1940, that number dwindled to 6,376. And as for the churches, there were 39,530 of them in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. In 1940, however, only 950 of them remained functional.
In an essay, Soloviev wrote about how Christianity revolutionized politics. In ancient times, he said, the pagan State existed for itself just as socialistic and secular regimes do in modern times. In a word, paganism turned the very purpose of government upside down to mean that citizens exist to serve the State. But with the revelation of Jesus Christ, the purpose of the State was also revealed to mankind. Indeed, political truth was made known because the truth and dignity of the immortal the soul was revealed.
"Christianity,” Soloviev said, “coming into the world in order to save the world, also served the supreme manifestation of the world- the State -having revealed to the State the true goal and meaning of its existence.” He then added, “A Christian state acknowledges over itself a higher goal, which is given by religion and is represented by the Church, and a Christian State finds its higher meaning and purpose in voluntary service to this goal, that is to say, the kingdom of God."
For this reason, the State- by the virtue of its revealed purpose -has limited power. And those who govern under the influence of Christianity are tempered by the divine and natural law. The Russian philosopher then goes on to caution his readers about the absence of Christian belief in politics: "The difference between a Christian and a pagan State consists in the latter thinking it had a purpose in itself, and therefore it turned out to be aimless and meaningless."
It cannot be emphasized enough that if political power is not seen as coming from God and hence used for the welfare of the citizenry, it will be used for the personal advantage of political rulers. As Vladimir Soloviev warned, the political attitude of "mine" creates the conditions for an all-powerful State. He said, "Once the supremacy of one's own interest is recognized and legalized in politics only as mine, then it becomes absolutely impossible to point out boundaries of this mine..."
But what about America? Does she not face similar challenges as Russia did a century ago?
In recent decades the U.S. government has grown by leaps and bounds in part because political authority is believed to be the personal possession of politicians; a divine right, if you will. But what has enabled this presumption to go unchecked in Washington D.C. is a morally unformed and uneducated citizenry.
Keep in mind that if the average American depends on the State for his education – an education without reference to God – he will all more likely forgo self-reliance and continue to rely on the State for his welfare. Indeed, what has replaced an attitude of self-sufficiency in the private sector is an entitlement mentality. “About 17 million people received food stamps back in 2000. Some 30 million received them in 2008. Roughly 46 million people receive them today. From 1 in 50 Americans on food stamps at the program’s national inception in the 1970s, 1 in 7 Americans are on them now.”
The bottom line is this: There is a direct relationship between the entitlement mentality of Americans fostered by our public institutions and the religious liberty denied Christians by those same institutions. The State that giveth too much also has the power to taketh much away. This kind of power is borne from and is further strengthened by the absence of Christian influence upon the State. Without the light of Gospel, the dignity and liberty of the human soul fails to express itself in the public square, thus limiting the jurisdiction of the State over human affairs.
What Vladimir Soloviev was for Russia, Bishop Fulton Sheen was for America. In 1948, about 20 years before the Sexual Revolution and 60 years before the H.H.S. mandate era, Sheen warned America about that “someone” who is to come if her faith in God should ever weaken. That “someone,” of course, is a totalitarian state that will undoubtedly be an enemy of Christ. He said, "If a time ever comes when the religious Jews, Protestants, and Catholics have to suffer under a totalitarian state denying them the right to worship God according to the light of their conscience, it will be because for years they thought it no difference what kind of people represented them in Congress, and because they never opposed the materialistic lie with spiritual truth."
America: Someone is coming.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.