Of Westphalia and Waterfalls

October 24th marks several anniversaries: The Treaty of Westphalia was signed on this day in 1648, ending the 30-year war of ‘religion’, fought primarily between Catholics and Protestants, although sides got mixed with nationalistic ambitions clouding spiritual principles, and allegiance to the one, true Faith. The syncretic motto imposed after the war spoke of the secularist era that was dawning: Cuius regio, eius religio – literally, to whom the region, to him the religion. Or, more practically, the religion of the prince would be the religion of his domain, and of his people.

The Pope at the time saw through this insidious false irenicism, to seek peace at all costs, and called the Treaty null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, and devoid of meaning for all time. People, including Pontiffs, did not mix words in that more blunt and bold era. For Innocent saw that the end result of this was the end of religion, first, as an influence upon society, and then, upon the individual person: In other words, religion would cease to matter, with secularism and atheism soon the order of the day. And speaking of religion not mattering, it is perhaps not a coincidence that this is also the anniversary of the official inauguration of the United Nations in 1945, as a means of keeping peace in the wake of World War II, whose connection to Westphalia’s fragile compromise is not difficult to trace in broad outline.

Peace, peace, when there is no peace. As Dostoyevsky rightly saw two centuries after Westphalia, without God, anything goes, and the nations and its people, thinking their houses swept clean of cobwebbed, mediaeval ‘superstition’, would be infested and possessed by legions of devils, who would wreak havoc. Damnable, indeed. Covidiocy is only a manifestation of our far deeper problems – a panicked fear of death and judgement looming large, at least over our subconscious. We must face those demons, and exorcise them. As Christ warns in today’s Gospel, unless we repent – undergo that deep metanoia – we will all likewise perish; and the Saviour is not talking only about the earthly and passing sort of death. Fear not him – or it – who can kill the body, but fear the one who can cast both soul and body into hell.

This is also the anniversary of the first barrel ride over Niagara Falls. In 1901, Annie Edson, a widow, survived the drop in a padded, wooden barrel. Since then, fifteen people have gone over the falls – either Niagara or Horseshoe – and ten have survived. Human beings do love risk – even though kayaking over the edge, as Jesse Sharp tried in 1990, or flying off on a jet ski, as did the ironically named Robert Overcracker in 1995, with a parachute on his back, which was, alas, not harnessed properly to his body, God rest their souls – may seem utterly foolhardy, we should reflect on what it is they were seeking in this odd adventure of life. Is it about staying safe, until something eventually takes us, hiding under our comforters? Or should we face life head-on, against all its dangers and pitfalls, with that parrhesia, that courage and boldness, that marked our forefathers, and should mark us?

For we always walking on a precipice between here and eternity – there is a fine line across that shimmering veil. Better, as I think someone once said, to die living, than to live dying.

And while on falls, we noticed also that this very same day – separated by eight decades – also marks the two biggest crises in the stock market, with sudden plummets in the double digits, billions, if not trillions, wiped out in an instant: Black Thursday, in 1929, whence began the Great Depression, and ‘Bloody Friday’ – if that is not somewhat irreligious, now that I write it – in 2008, which manifested the start of our current woes. A harbinger perhaps of further economic mayhem, as Paula Adamick writes, one that certain eugenic, population-control billionaire types may not want to let go to waste.

On a note of nostalgia, for better days past, and hopefully to come again: It was on this day that the Blue Jays won the World Series, back in 1992. I’m not much of one for professional sports, but it was good to know that we could beat the Americans at their own game, even if most players on the Toronto team were from the States and anywhere but Canada. Yet, still, we might hope for the time when we can gather again in crowds like that – it seems like a dream, but it was less than a year ago…

So hope, dear reader, even against hope, as has become almost my motto. God is in charge, and we will leave you for now with the opening words of the second psalm, which puts Trudeau and ilk in perspective, sub specie aeternitatis:

Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and his anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the LORD has them in derision.