The Fading of the Pax Americana
That those now designated “Traditional Catholics” should extol the virtues of the Latin liturgy has little to do with an appreciation of Latin and everything to do with a desire to preserve doctrine. Defense of the Tridentine rite has become their shibboleth. The Latin Mass is seen as the fort of Tradition which protects its adherents from the assaults of heterodoxy which attack under the banner of the vernacular Novus Ordo.
This is not to say that the Latin Mass is not aesthetically superior to its alternative and an effective vehicle for the maintenance of orthodoxy. But many who make the trek to the nearest Tridentine Mass are not necessarily fond of Latin, nor even knowledgeable of its grammar and vocabulary.
Latin was not long ago the language of educated people and the international medium for the exchange of higher knowledge. Now, it is English that has usurped that role. This is, of course, because the United States is the world’s foremost economic and military power and Americans speak English. Before the hegemony of the U.S.A., the British Empire had done much to further the use of English as an international language.
At the time when the Christian religion was moving across Asia Minor and the Mediterranean lands, Rome ruled much of the world. Latin was gradually replacing koine, or common Greek, as the lingua franca. And the idea of the Pax Romana arose: Rome promoted itself as the bringer of peace and prosperity, of the rule of law and religious toleration. Those who accepted Rome sought citizenship in the empire; those who opposed Rome did so at their own peril.
The reach of Rome was long, and it continued throughout history, long after its empire was no more. The decay of classical studies was gradual and, even in my youth, persisted in its moribund way, so that I spent my third year of Latin struggling through Virgil’s Aeneid. The purpose of the Aeneid was to glorify Rome and, by extension, the divine Augustus, then emperor and patron of the arts.
For those unfamiliar with the epic, it tells of the founding of Rome by Aeneas, a Trojan hero and the son of Anchises, a mortal man, and Venus, the goddess of beauty and love. So, Rome was destined and underwritten by Olympus. As Aeneas was half-mortal and half-divine, he aligned heaven and earth with the destiny of Rome: he was the instrument of the Fates, or providence as it was conceived in the ancient world.
But in the Golden Age of Rome, an event occurred in the outback of the empire: a child was born in an obscure village called Bethlehem, in Judea. Yeshua was to become known to the world as Jesus, His Latin name. And He was to be executed by Rome for ostensibly challenging Caesar and making Himself a king. This was the charge presented to Pontius Pilate by the Jews of the Sanhedrin. His accusers had other reasons for seeking the death of Yeshua at Roman hands, but their accusation ironically pointed to the course history was to take. The Pax Romana, a romanticized excuse for military tyranny and economic expansion, was to be replaced by the Pax Christi. The emperor would eventually bow before the altar of the Christian God. And Yeshua would become known by His Latin name, Jesus.
Our Lord appeared in the world when Roman power was at its zenith, or appeared to be so. But its structure rested on the sand of ambition and greed. A new power was taking shape, one that would transform the world in then-unimagined and unimaginable ways. No one could have foreseen it, at least no one outside of the small but growing band of followers of Yeshua, the true Man-God, who would unseat Aeneas and his imperial progeny.
St. Paul knew that Roman rule was destined to fail; that the Pax Romana was a political fiction. He spoke of the Resurrection of Christ, not the rise of Rome, as the central event in human history. The Resurrection he proclaimed as the beginning of a new creation, or rather a restored creation. God who made the world in love was going to set His world right, not abandon it to the predatory powers that had deformed and exploited it.
St. Paul’s vision is of a world reclaimed by us through Christ. We, the saved, will not forsake our bodies to final corruption as our soul departs the flesh; rather, we will eventually receive new bodies, transformed and glorified by the spirit when we are raised up by Christ. Nor will the body of the world and all of its creatures be forsaken: they, too, will be glorified in their own way:
Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body. – Romans, 8: 18-24
This reclamation of the world is often forgotten in the pursuit of personal salvation. Each man must be saved as an individual, but his salvation does not end there. Every man saved becomes part of the new creation, of the communion of saints that will inhabit and reshape the world when Our Lord returns in glory. Nothing will be lost. If we have trust in Our Lord and do as He commands us – love one another as He loves us – no one will be able to snatch us out of His hand. We have His promise. For the Father loves us as He loves the Son, and no one can take anything out the hand of the Father.
At this time in world history, we appear to be witnessing the demise of the latest version of the Pax Romana – the Pax Americana. The ideals of democracy, the benefits of free enterprise, sexual liberation, women’s liberation, racial and economic equality, the toleration of all religions (except Christianity) are comprised in this Pax Americana. Its promoters see themselves, as did the ancient Romans, as the benefactors of the world. And should anyone disagree, a worldwide military presence and universal economic power may help to persuade them they are wrong.
One cannot deny the benefits of American influence in many parts of the world, but the messianic claims implicit in the imposition of its power upon recalcitrant people must also be recognized. America is not the savior of the world. Jesus Christ is.
We see signs of the decline of the Pax Americana. The internal political divisions in the United States are becoming so radical that shared governance is becoming more difficult and may, in the near future, become impossible. This division in America is spreading throughout all the nations of the West. One side, the Leftist and globalist, seeks total power and the destruction of all opposition. The rise of what is called populism may be the last gasp of dying cultures. And it is denounced as racism or xenophobia by those who see some advantage to their interests in the dissolution of what remains of local and ethnic identity, as well as religion. They will have no god but Caesar, and they are Caesar.
But whatever party or interest resorts to raw power as an instrument of rule is sowing the seeds of its own demise. For raw power tends to devour those who use it. It depends on the maintenance of fear, but it has no principle above itself, above the individual wielding it. So, it degenerates into tyranny. The names of the tyrants may change, but the face of every tyrant is the face of fear, the face of death.
For those living in the Pax Christi, there is no fear, no death. This is why St. Paul saw the Resurrection as the central fact of history. It overthrows all tyrants. No one can kill the soul. Only sin can kill the soul. And Jesus saves those who trust in Him from sin. And He will raise them up on the last day, in new bodies that will never die.
We are witnessing the end of something, and we do not know what may be beginning. History looks backward and cannot turn its head around. The future is hidden from us and we can only make conjectures based upon what we know of the past. What we know for certain is that every scheme for a world without Christ at its center has failed. The only New World Order is that promised by Jesus. St. Paul says we “groan” for it. We want it with all of our being and are impatient for it, as is every part of creation which longs to escape corruption.
As we celebrate Christmas, we remember the birth of our Savior, which marks the end of the old world and the stirrings of a new creation we cannot yet see except “in a glass darkly.” Around the crib in Bethlehem, along with the hosannas of the angels, we can also hear the crashing of empires followed by the distant echo of the final words of the Apocalypse, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And when He comes, He will wipe away all of our tears.