A contributor and reader wrote to me the following thoughts on the gates of hell not prevailing, which I thought would help our readers, to offer some hope in these dark mid-January days. But ’tis darkest when the dawn is nearest:
I don’t know if I mentioned that I was taking the Biblical School again this year. Year 2 is the Synoptic Gospels, Acts, and Paul’s letters. Near the beginning of the course, my teacher pointed out something I’d never noticed before. When Jesus says of the Church that, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” my teacher says that there is a tendency to interpret that passage in a defensive manner, like the Church is constantly being attacked by the forces of darkness. But to his mind, that view is incorrect for the simple reason that gates do not attack things. They are gates. The whole point of them is defensive, not offensive. My teacher’s point is that we attack gates, not the other way around.
To rephrase the Scripture, Jesus is saying to us/the Church, “When you raid the dominion of Hell, it’s gates will not prevail against you.” We are attacking them, not the other way around, and if the world sometimes looks like Mordor, it’s because it is Mordor. But it’s Mordor on the defensive, we aren’t its captives, we are its invaders. We are inside the walls and in the house, and its foul lord is trying to remember where he left the keys to the back door, because using the front door is no longer an option, and neither is the garage. Somebody already nicked his car.
It could be argued, taking the metaphor to the races, that everything since the coming of Christ has just been clean-up and short, nasty skirmishes with remainders of the enemy fighting like cornered rats, and doomed to a rat’s end as the dogs of God’s army close in.
Because the reality is, we not only broke down the Black Gates, we dynamited Sauron’s tower, napalmed and leveled Mount Doom, and put such giant holes in the scenery of the Mountains of Ash you can see through them all the way to Rohan on a clear day. They’ll never quite look the same again.
For further thoughts on the gates of hell, see Maureen Mullarkey’s thoughts here.