Father Jacques Hamel and the Faith of Europe

Another Islamic massacre, this time of an octogenarian priest, Father Jacques Hamel, saying Mass in a church in Saint Etienne de Rouvray in the northwest of France.  ISIS has claimed responsibility, with promises of more attacks ‘on churches’:  These Islamists are nothing if not symbolic, with their own form of ‘liturgy’, working on behalf of their distorted image of God and His law. Francois Hollande, Le President of the Republic, has vowed ‘war on ISIS’, denouncing such random and absurd acts of terror . He does not quite get it, and likely never will, mired in his own agnostic worldview.  To such a mind, murders of octogenarian priests in irrelevant and dying churches are completely irrational:  Why?

Yet, to the Islamic mind of ISIS, such an act makes perfect sense, for the priest represents the blasphemy of Christianity, which makes ‘God’ (Allah) a ‘Man’ (Christ).  If there is one essential message in Islam, it is that Christ, even though mentioned in the Qur’an far more than Mohammad, is not, and never could be, God.  In fact, Jesus in various suras declares his non-divinity in no uncertain terms.

In Islam, God is completely ‘other’.  A consequence of this, as Pope Benedict made clear in his Regensburg address ten years ago, is that man has no real access to the mind of God.  There is no Logos, or Word, and hence no logos, or reason.  The Islamic view of God’s law is voluntaristic, pure will, pure obedience.  How dare we ask if what Allah wills makes sense to us?  The mere fact that it is commanded is enough.

This is a dangerous strain in many religions, indeed most, not just in Islam (although here it has had its most violent manifestations).  Even in the Catholic Church, it has had its adherents, traced back most formally to the 14th century Franciscan William of Ockham, who advocated and developed the original philosophical version of voluntarism: According to Friar William, the moral law is arbitrary, a manifestation of the ‘will’ of God, and could be changed at the divine whim (or will, depending on your point of view).  The commandments do not express anything true about God or Man, but on the contrary are arbitrary commands that God could change tomorrow, or next year, or next minute.

But it is also only in the Catholic Church that religion, including its teachings on morality, is most perfectly rational.  The Church, of course, rejected the bizarre and dangerous theological musings of Inceptor William of Ockham (who never did receive his Master’s), and adopted rather the sober and rational theology of the Dominican Saint Thomas Aquinas (who did receive his doctorate, back when they were rare and meant something).  Friar Thomas taught that the natural moral law is immutable in its principles, binding upon all men, for all time.  There may be some variance in its particular, minute applications (such as modesty for men and women, and for different cultures), but in the main, it is the same for all, and no particular application of the moral law can ever violate the principles.

Not to be anachronistic, but Islam is far more Ockahmist than Thomistic (although they would not put it that way , of course). Sure, they have Sharia law, but that is a legal code, not so much a moral one. Islam, as we see most evidently in ISIS, (and they are closer to Islam’s essentially violent origins than most of our secular leaders want to  admit), things like mercy, love, forgiveness, purity, chastity, do not really exist, and certainly should not be applied to the infidel.  Hence, their ‘prayers’ before and during rapes and beheadings, mayhem and destruction, shouting out invocations to Allah as they mow down innocent children.  As these adherents of a false creed see it, they risk, indeed even welcome, the hail of bullets, a quick and glorious death, then martyrdom and a ‘heaven’ of sensual delights.  And to whatever Islamic ‘hell’ for their victims.

Chaotic as they may appear, there is a reason to their madness, for Man can never be purely voluntaristic.  After all, the will is a blind faculty, and must always be guided to some extent by the intellect, even if aberrantly and wrongly.  That is why the ISIS ‘soldiers’ delight in spectacle, in significant violence, that will instill the most fear, that strikes the most vulnerable targets, that paralyzes the populace, making them ever more ‘submissive’, as is ISIS’ (Islam’s) aim.

The violence of ISIS is therefore not purely random, nor chaotic.  Rather, it is usually planned well ahead, with knowledge aforethought.  The Nice (and not so nice) truck-killer spent a year planning his mayhem, and the murderers in the French parish knew when the priest was saying Mass, knew more or less what the Mass signified, and knew that killing a priest while saying Mass was a very ‘significant’ act. Easy targets, maximum impact.

Secularist leaders like Hollande hope to defend France and Europe, but good luck with his ‘war on ISIS’.  This is not primarily a military and police conflict, but a spiritual and cultural one.  Even at the level of enforcement, confused and wobbling Western nations such as France are rather hopeless:  The perpetrator here had actually twice tried to leave France to ‘fight in Syria’ (that is, for ISIS).  The French authorities, so scared of Islamophobia and ‘racism’, let him stay, forcing him to wear an alarmed ankle bracelet, which was conveniently turned off each morning, and it was at 9:30 a.m., wouldn’t you know it, that he slit the throat of the priest.

How does one defend against random, chaotic violence, which could in theory be perpetrated by any one of the millions of young Muslims residing in France, and now throughout Europe?  As I wrote before, even if only one percent sympathize with ISIS’ ‘version’ of Islam, that is still many thousands of potential terrorists.  And those are only the ones registered.  Do you put useless ankle bracelets on them all?  Or lock them all up in un-escapable ghettos? Or kick them all out? (The last two were tried in Spain in the fifteenth century)

These questions are at present unanswerable, for France,  as has the rest of the West, has lost its spirit and its culture, its raison d’etre, and without this foundation, no defense is possible, for what, really, is Hollande and the rest of secular Europe defending? As Hilaire Belloc so prophetically wrote in 1920, ‘Europe is the Faith, and the Faith is Europe’.  And, as bellicose Belloc went on, ‘Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish’.

We may well be witnessing  just such a dissolution of the grand two millennia Catholic Christian project called ‘Europe’, symbolized as the good priest perished in his own blood before the altar of Christ, a sacrificial victim in the act of offering the Most Holy Sacrifice.  There were only a few people in the congregation, fortunately so at one level, one may suppose.  But not so at another.  Why are there not throngs of French people at Mass?  One may wonder if the ISIS adherents also knew that they were acting on the eve of World Youth Day in Poland, a country which is now arguably the focal point of what ‘Europe’ means.  Even if they did not, God did.

The Islamic onslaught was turned back in the year 732 by Charles Martel at Tours, and by Christian soldiers (not least from Poland) in 1683 in the Battle of Vienna.  Now, untold numbers of ISIS adherents, potential and actual, are within the very gates.  Who will defend us now? The only way to stop such violence is, as Belloc stated, for Europe to rediscover her faith, along with which comes a recovery of reason and a sense of common purpose. That is what saved Europe in the past, and it is the only thing that will save her now.

For example:  A true and truly spiritual renewal of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage (instead of a pagan-ish hike for Nordic tourists) would be a step in the right direction, as would a reinvigoration of Mass attendance, Humanae Vitae adherence, Catholic education and culture, an emphasis on Christian sexuality and committed, married love and family life, but most of all, a general and solid awareness of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, of what is true and false, most of all in the moral life and religion, based on Christian revelation.

But, as another fantasy and misguided warrior discovered long ago, that may well be a Quixotic hope.


Saint James, Joachim and Anne, orate pro nobis!