It rained all day on January 20th. I was tired, and I like watching ceremonies. So I stayed in the house and watched the presidential inauguration ceremonies on television. I was happy to see that President Trump seemed to be enjoying himself. Personally, I have to say, I am also happy that the former regime, which so aggressively endorsed virtually every policy that is contrary to faith and truth, is gone.
However—and there is a however—let us not be deceived by expressions of American gnosticism. America has a temptation to gnosticism. It has from the beginning.
Gnosticism is the notion that I or some other person or some thing is somehow divine, that I am a god unto myself. Gnosticism finally reaches its evil fruit when people say if there is any such thing as truth, the only criterion of that truth is what I say is true. This is a form of relativist gnosticism, where I am the criterion of all.
American gnosticism is the notion that equates America with the Kingdom of God. And it’s as wrong as any other deception of the same sort. American gnosticism confuses the Kingdom of God and the day of the Lord’s return with something in this world, with a worldly paradise that men will somehow create on this earth.
We have to be careful, for example, when we hear claims by anyone who says he will wipe radical Islam off the face of the earth. Well, now, I will be honest and say I would be very happy to see radical Islam disappear from the face of the earth. I don’t apologize for saying that. But it’s been on the face of the earth for fourteen hundred years and God has not seen fit to wipe it off the face of the earth—for reasons known to him alone.
Furthermore, when someone says, “Every possibility is open to us. We can eradicate disease”—not just make it possible to advance the treatment of disease, but eradicate it completely. Jesus our Lord opened the eyes of the blind man Bartimaeus, but he did not eliminate blindness from this world—for reasons that he knew best.
To say that America is protected by God because it is America reflects a gnostic mindset that falsely equates America with the Kingdom of God—a very dangerous notion.
There used to be a ceremony in the Catholic Church known as the coronation of the pope. The first recorded papal coronation was that of Pope Nicholas I in 858. The last was the 1963 coronation of Pope Paul VI, who soon afterwards abandoned the practice of wearing the tiara. I’m glad it’s gone because it’s one thing the Church certainly didn’t need, and having the coronation of popes caused more damage between the eastern and western churches than perhaps any other visible thing. The coronation of the pope was also a very confusing spectacle that made the pope look like an earthly monarch.
But the Church had the good sense to do one thing during the coronation of the pope. In this great parade, there was a little boy, who carried a censer except that the censer wasn’t filled with incense, but with burning linen, which has a very acrid smell. The little boy would wave the smoke from the burning linen at the Pope and say Ecce sancte pater sic transit gloria mundi: “Behold, holy Father, how the glory of the world passes away.”
It was a symbolic gesture, but it said something important. And the smell of that burning linen has to be in the nostrils of anyone who is the subject of or who watches the glory of this world and the claims that are made by the princes and sons of men in this world. There is no salvation ultimately in any of them. Only Christ abolishes death through the Cross and gives us life and immortality.
So let us ask, of course, for all blessing on the country and all blessing on the new president. But let us also ask for open eyes and an ever more pure faith to be the disciples of the Lord in his Church and not to be deceived by a gnostic mindset that tries to put America in the place of the Kingdom of God.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!