The Plague

I’m hoping that people facing death will start thinking about that thing that is worse than death: damnation. I’m hoping that people will start caring for their souls more than their bodies.

Detail from "Plague Hospital" (1798-1800) by Francisco Goya [WikiArt.org]

“A furious plague . . . burst like a blast on the land, thinning the population and throwing the work of the world into ruin. There was a shortage of labour; a difficulty of getting luxuries …”

That is G.K. Chesterton in his book, A Short History of England, talking about the Black Death, also known as the Bubonic Plague, which spread through Europe the middle of the 14th century.

The phrases sound familiar: furious, bursting like a blast, thinning the population, throwing the work of world into ruin. And a difficulty in getting luxuries.

And how about these lines from The Ballad of the White Horse:

As the tall white devil of the Plague
Moves out of Asian skies,
With his foot on a waste of cities
And his head in a cloud of flies…

Also sounds familiar: out of Asian skies, a waste of cities. And the bit about flies reminds me of this passage from a 1932 column in the Illustrated London News:

A fly is a small thing, but flies can be a very big thing. In some tropical countries, I am told, they can appear like great clouds on the remote horizon or vast thunderstorms filling the whole sky. The plague of locusts which afflicts many lands is something much more destructive than the passage of a pack of wolves or the ruin wrought by a stampede of wild bulls or wild elephants. So the seemingly insignificant individual irritation produced by these insignificant individual perversities may be, in its cumulative effect, more corrupting to a whole culture than the great heresies that have been hardened and hammered into a certain intellectual solidity. The spirit of anarchy does not work only by monsters. Even the sages and visionaries of the East have seen a spiritual significance in the fact that even almost invisible insects can be a plague or carry a pestilence; and the ancient name of Beelzebub has the meaning of the Lord of the Flies.

Again, Chesterton fittingly describes the plague that has transformed our lives in recent weeks: more destructive than the ruin wrought by a stampede, a spirit of anarchy, invisible insects. The Lord of the Flies. The Devil.

Unless we are talking about the events leading up to the original Passover, or the aforementioned Bubonic Plague, we don’t usually use the word “plague” to refer to an actual plague. We use it as a metaphor for something else that is sweeping society in a bad way. Perhaps something grotesquely and grippingly evil, such as pornography, abortion, or terrorism. Or something subtly and irritatingly and invisibly evil: rampant consumerism, pervasive materialism, spiritual apathy, the unspoken acceptance of the godless philosophies that have taken over our schools like a disease.

But now we’re dealing with an actual physical plague, a pestilence, a fast-moving and highly infectious virus. And people are dying. Our official strategies to deal with the disease involve isolation, where we have all been sent to our rooms like naughty children, and purification that is anything but a ritual cleansing. But a Christian should be able to see the significance of 40 days in the wilderness. Or 40 years. There could be a major turnover in population.

A society that knows that it is sick, and knows what the sickness is, is suddenly very careful. It is when we are ignorant of the sickness – or choose to ignore it – that we are careless. And with the metaphorical plagues such as pornography and abortion and materialism and godlessness, we have been careless, and the soul of our society has been devastated. But now that our comforts are being threatened, our money, even our very lives, by a physical disease, we are taking notice. We may recover, we may not. Everything could be very different very soon.

Chesterton points out that the Black Death brought that era known as the Middle Ages to an end. It had been a time of great learning, great growth, great stability. It saw the rise of the cathedrals, the universities, the hospitals, led by religious orders in a society that was knit together by one faith and one morality. And then 100 million people died, including the best people, good priests and leaders and solid citizens. Then, Luther and Calvin and Henry VIII led their rebellions against the Church. Western civilization has never recovered. Christianity was torn apart by factions, the Enlightenment did open war on the faith, skepticism and materialism permeated the academy, the humanities became separated from the sciences, the arts became separated from theology, theology became separated from philosophy, philosophy became separated from common sense, and everything became separated from everything else. The world, says Chesterton, has become one wild divorce court.

A little microbe did that.

But I’m hoping this latest plague has the opposite effect of its famous predecessor. I’m hoping that people facing death will start thinking about that thing that is worse than death: damnation. I’m hoping that people will start caring for their souls more than their bodies.

I’m hoping that if our society is really facing ruin, we might consider what a better society looks like, an economy not built on greed and lust and envy, but on virtue. A government not built on legal minutia but on the principles of justice decreed by the Decalogue. Schools that teach Truth. Strong families that honor the sanctuary of the home and the Church, spreading to the whole world a deeper appreciation and adoration of Christ on his throne of glory and in the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar.

That’s what I’m hoping the microbe might help bring about. G.K. Chesterton says, “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.”


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About Dale Ahlquist 41 Articles
Dale Ahlquist is president of the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, creator and host of the EWTN series "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense," and publisher of Gilbert Magazine. He is the author and editor of several books on Chesterton, including The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton.

15 Comments

  1. Chesterton had a great influence on C. S. Lewis. In Lewis’s Screwtape Letters the devil gives special affection to society’s “godless philosophies” (Ahlquist) versus our needed wake-up call:

    “But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate this horror of the Same Old Thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect may reinforce corruption in the will. It is here that the general Evolutionary or Historical character of modern European thought comes in so useful. The Enemy [God] loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement or our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is it the way that History is going?’ they will neglect the relevant questions.”

  2. In the Nicene Creed of the Catholic Church, Catholics end their profession of faith by Saying: ” I believe in the resurrections of the death and the life of the world to come Amen”. If someone carefully read the creed there is not mention of “damnation”. Where that concept came from and what the Church intend to accomplish by emphasizing such concept?

    • Mr. Campos-Figueroa,
      The Nicene Creed represents the determinations of several early ecumenical councils regarding heresy and truth. As of the dates when the Nicene Creed was established, the Church had not had to deal with a heresy that people wouldn’t be consigned to hell. If it had, the damnation of unholy people may have ended up in the Creed.

      • So if a person wants to become a Catholic and upholds the creed with all his heart is this sufficient or not? if it is not why is recited at every mass and what those who profess it want to accomplish? Heresies in the Church started very early by the Gnostics.

        • Mr. Campos-Figueroa,
          The Nicene Creed contains fundamental dogmas of the Faith. It definitely doesn’t contain the fullness of truth as revealed by Christ.

          If one wishes to become Catholic, upholding the Nicene Creed is a good start, but there’s much much more. Catholicism is arguably the richest and deepest faith on the planet, and Christ does not call us to be minimalist.

        • DAMNATION to Hell by Free Will and Free Choice is a Catholic Teaching clearly explained in that link you offer. PREDESTINARIANISM was declared a HERESY by the Catholic Church, which is also clearly explained in that link you offer. They are total, absolute OPPOSITES. The first is self-inflicted, the second (a HERESY) is exclusively God-dictated. Are you confused or just trying to plant confusion? English is a very accurate language. Why are you confusing those two opposite terms so blatantly?

        • Perhaps “loss of Heaven” sums it up better?
          Predestinarianism is not Catholic teaching in any case. You might want to ask other denominations about that. I remember that some Hard Shell Baptist bootleggers back in the day used to claim that though they were sinning they were following God’s Will because He’d predestined them to Hell anyway.
          Those kind of rationalizations can get pretty self serving.
          🙂

    • Where did it come from? Probably from Scripture, but how can this be, since everyone knows Catholics don’t read that stuff! For example,

      “…and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (Jn 5:29);“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14); “the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10); “And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone” Rev 19:20);“These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thes 1:9); “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Mt 7:13).

      This is not to say that hell is a geographic place, but nor is it only a concept.

    • It is just too easy and too convenient to take ONE statement of Faith as highly SUMMARIZED as the Nicene Creed is, and to try to play the Liberal/Protestant isolate-from-total-context-and-then-distort strategy together with the semantic fallacy of “the technical term is not there”. STILL, the Nicene Creed clearly states: “He will come again in glory to JUDGE the living and the dead and his KINGDOM will have no end”. JUDGE?

      Why JUDGE, if supposedly (according to Biblical self-serving transgenderizers) we will all go to Heaven, so God can calm and assuage His “insecurity” and “terrible fear” of not being seen as a good, soft, tolerant and accommodating deity, of not being “politically correct”? Why bother with JUDGMENT, if this alternate Disneyworld-heaven is true? BECAUSE, there’s a very real possibility of Eternal Damnation and God’s JUDGMENT over here in this earthly life is intending to save us from eternal damnation over there after death. Disney is dead, JESUS is alive!

      That’s why one of the greatest evidences of damnation on this earthly life is the totally-monstrified-by-their-own-imagination serial killers, so admired by today’s Ideological Fantasy Peddlers. KINGDOM? Why a KINGDOM and not a cute, little “community”? Because in a KINGDOM we are not automatically entitled to be in there just because. We EARN our right to be there by believing in the King and complying with His orders and will. We must fight for the Honor of the King and get ready fight His battles against His enemies that set themselves up against His Kingdom. That’s why True Heaven has walls (also known as BOUNDARIES OF REALITY): Revelation 21:12. Catholicism is GOD’S REALITY trying to save us from the never-ending suicide of ETERNAL DAMNATION coming from sinful, no-boundaries imagination.

        • Mr. Rigoberto Campos-Figueroa, your fairy has no wings. What I mean by that is that first you talk in your comment (copy and paste): “If someone carefully read the creed there is not mention of “damnation”. Where that concept came from and what the Church intend to accomplish by emphasizing such concept?”. I DID answer your question. Your argument, by your own words is about DAMNATION. Now you completely turn around 180 degrees and give a Catholic Answers link that talks about PREDESTINARIANISM.

          DAMNATION and PREDESTINARIANISM are NOT even a trillion light-years close to being the same thing. Your Bait-And-Switch is either a show of greater ignorance than Catholic School 5th graders, who know the huge difference between those two, or a total show of dishonesty. Intentional manipulation of the Truth does not lead to some sort of sneaky, I-fooled-God-and-the-Church “salvation”. Today’s ultra-popular No-Christ-Self-Salvation (through extreme radical activism/atheism/feminism/environmentalism/etc.) is a royal road to eventual DAMNATION as it mocks and rejects God and His Salvation Plan through Christ.

          In DAMNATION, we CHOOSE it by Free Will, moment by unrepentant moment, sin by unrepentant sin, rejecting JESUS and Heaven. In PREDESTINARIANISM, which the Catholic Church declared a HERESY, only God decides our fate and our Free Will is mostly irrelevant. As I said before, your fairy (imagination) has no wings. Believe JESUS, follow His Catholic Church, seek Heaven. The willfully entitled will never see Heaven, which is why an entitlement attitude is so furiously promoted today by Satan and his associates. Eternal Misery wants company. Beware!!

        • ´If someone carefully read the creed there is no mention of “damnation”…´

          Well, for starters, the someone needs to read more carefully. For instance:
          http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc/index.htm >> http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_P2O.HTM

          ¨Where that concept came from and what the Church intend to accomplish by emphasizing such concept?¨

          Perhaps you may want to click through into every paragraph mentioned in the concordances: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/3/D.HTM

          And read the pertinent footnotes.

          • Catholic Study Bible

            John 5:28-29

            28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice
            29 and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

  3. Crises draw out the bedrock of a Man, for artists of literary expression Chesterton, Lewis attractive soliloquies on the meaning of life things forgotten and death. For some terror and manic resort to the last sumptuous meal, cigarette prior to execution. “Plague. We use it as a metaphor for something else that is sweeping society in a bad way grotesquely and grippingly evil, pornography, abortion, or terrorism” (Ahlquist). Even it seems allusion to ecological sin. The betwixt query ogres hidden in away dark corners now emerging. Damnation. Eternal suffering. I confess I wake at night thinking the unthinkable, the ‘ultimate calamity’ [Therese of Lisieux] that awaits the dying who die sans faith or vestige of redeeming good. So I pray at night. Examining historical reaction to the spectre of sudden impending death, I would add the impending disaster of global economic collapse [something Archbishop Carlo Vigano thought a boon regarding the destruction of Globalism] Dale Ahlquist turns to the theological virtue of hope. Chesterton as usual definitive, “Hope would not be hope unless things were hopeless”. Whatever may be God’s strategy if any the retrieve of Faith Hope and Charity during this crisis is a given.

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