The idea that it is better to allow Islam, or atheism, or just secularism to triumph seems to me a perversion of one of the noblest of Christian actions – martyrdom. There are, as this and the last centuries show, occasions on which, like the Christians of old, it is necessary for us to sacrifice ourselves. But that is the point, surely, that we sacrifice ourselves; we are the ones who suffer because the alternative is to renounce Christ. I shan’t tempt fate, as I have a lively fear that I am not the stuff of which martyrs are made. But a willingness to die for Christ is one thing; is it the same as a willingness to let others suffer rather than give ground to another church?
I know what vexed territory this is. I have enough Catholic and Orthodox acquaintances for some if them to be firmly of the view that their church is THE church and all others are not. Well, maybe in the eyes of God they are both right, but in the eyes of man that is more problematic. The Catholic Church has a good and sensible position on this, recognising the validity of the orders and sacraments of the Orthodox; as no one can speak for all the Orthodox, the latter could not reciprocate, even if they so wanted.
The lessons of the Church of the East are those of the other non-Chalcedonian churches; you can preserve your unique heritage and insist you are right; you can make the ultimate sacrifice; but what if rather than fertilise the seeds of faith, the blood of so many martyrs drowns them?
So many of the lands where St. Paul toiled in what is now Turkey and Syria are all but devoid of Christians. The ruins are noble and haunt the imagination, but ruins they are and will remain until Christ comes again in glory. As I walked round parts of London earlier today, I saw churches closed and empty, some turned into museums, some into arts centres and cafes, and I thought we are not so far from Turkey’s fate as we might think. Is it that we do not see these things – or do the devices and desires of our own hearts blind us to the consequences of our pride?
Do we never read the Old Testament with discernment? Do we simply not see how the People of Israel’s pride led them into situations where they were chastised by the Lord? Or do we think we are immune, wiser, better, closer to God? Or are we just as proud?
I look at the Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI and their approach to other Christians, indeed to other faiths, and I see two men of God wise enough to do two things, where most of us do only one: they believed most firmly in their own church and in Christianity; but they do not denigrate others. They recognised in most Christian churches elements of truth, to a greater or lesser extent, and they were willing and are willing, to talk with them; neither did they despise non-Christian faiths.
On the other hand I see those who criticised these holy men, and I see where their example has led in the past, and I wonder whether it really takes exile by the waters of Babylon for these stiff necks to bow; or whether they just prefer to break?
God is not mocked. If there is, as there is, a diversity of belief, then there is a reason for it, because God could change it in the twinkling of an eye and He does not. We, the created, cannot fathom the mind of the Creator, and we the finite cannot read the Infinite.
Chesterton was right:
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried”