By Michael Warren Davis
This face, for centuries a memory,
Non est species, neque decor,
Expressionless, expresses God: it goes
Past castled Sion. She knows what God knows,
Not Calvary’s Cross nor crib at Bethlehem
Now, and the world shall come to Walsingham.
Frederick Wilhelmsen called Juan Donoso Cortés the Augustine of the nineteenth century: the chronicler of civilization’s timely demise. To R.A. Herrera, the Marqués de Valdegamas was “the Cassandra of our age,” warning Christendom of her impending ruin. I suppose they both might be right. In any event, to his disciples, Donoso is a prophet.
Those who favor Wilhelmsen’s view will point to Donoso’s best-known work, his Essays on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism. And it’s certainly good stuff. Three years before St. John Henry Newman published his Apologia, Donoso made the same argument no less cogently: “there is no medium, in true philosophy, between Atheism and Catholicity.” One is either en route to Rome or slouching towards Sodom.
Yet Professor Herrera points to a lesser-known work, Donoso’s Speech on the General Situation in Europe. To read it in the year 2020 is something of a revelation.
In the year 1850—three-quarters of a century before the Bolsheviks seized power—Donoso issued a warning to the Continent. Europe’s ultimate demise would come in three stages. First was the descent from Christianity to pantheism, and then from pantheism to atheism. The Enlightenment had effected the first stage of decay. The next would be a descent into total godlessness.
At the same time, the decline from Christianity to pantheism would be marked by a shift from monarchy to republicanism; this was accomplished by the French Revolution and its imitators across Europe. Then would come the final plunge into political anarchy, when no legitimate authority would be able to restrain the powers of lust and avarice.
Politics would supersede religion, he warned, and then economics would supersede politics. Then, the world would be turned upside-down.
Europe was already teetering on the edge of its final decline, Donoso warned—between pantheism and atheism, between republicanism and anarchy. How would we know when the descent was complete? “Revolution must dissolve permanent armies; patriotism must be extinguished through socialist expropriation; and the Slavic nations must unite into a confederation under the Russian banner,” as Herrara neatly sums them up. “Once these three events have occurred, the time will have arrived for Russia to impose God’s punishment on the world.”
The reader, I’m sure, can’t help but think of Our Lady’s warning to the three little children of Fátima that “if people do not cease offending God,” a second (and far worse) World War would break out. “When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that He is about to punish the world for its crimes,” she advised. Russia “will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, and various nations will be annihilated.”
Of course, we know, there was still hope. “In the end,” she promised, “my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”
This conversation took place in 1917, sixty-seven years after Donoso gave his Speech on the General Situation in Europe. And I have no doubt that, had he lived to hear of the Fátima prophecies, the Marqués de Valdegamas would have been one of their strongest advocates. Yet his solution was not, perhaps, altogether wrong. There was only one hope for Europe as Donoso saw it: England must return to the Catholic Church.
❧Of all the nations that fell away from the Church during the Reformation, the loss of England was certainly the most grievous. France may have been the eldest daughter of the Church, but England was Mary’s very own dowry.
Before he led his subjects into apostasy, King Henry VIII was given the title “Defender of the Faith” by Pope Leo X for his treatise Defense of the Seven Sacraments, which he wrote as a rebuke to the burgeoning Lutheran heresy. Imagine if Henry had remained steadfast! Imagine if he and his descendants had sided with the Catholic powers during the Wars of Religion! The Nordic kingdoms, Holland, Switzerland, and the Schmalkaldic League could never have withstood the combined forces of England, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, and the Holy Roman Empire. Not only would Christendom have been saved from schism and error but the struggle would have ended with a swift, decisive victory, preventing centuries of needless bloodshed.
Europe could have remained united in the Faith. There would have been no French Revolution and no World Wars, no socialism and no fascism. Today, the Continent would not be under the thumb of the the European Union: it would be flourishing beneath the blue mantle of the Blessed Virgin.
In a matter of centuries, England would become the first great Western empire since the fall of Rome. When she declined, her successor rose from within her own house: the United States, her eldest daughter. Imagine if both nations—England and America—had used their awesome political, economic, and military power to advance the Faith. (This is to say nothing of Canada, Oceania, India, the Caribbean, and huge swathes of Africa.)
And who knows? If the entire Christian world today were united under the Supreme Pontiff, our missionary powers might be doubled, tripled, quadrupled. Hilaire Belloc said that Islam began as a Christian heresy, not a new religion; perhaps it would have gone the way of the Lutherans—that strange little faction which, thanks to Good King Harry, grew no larger than the Cathars. We could have made greater progress in Northern Africa, Indochina, and Japan.
This is all purely speculative, of course. But we must ask ourselves: would Christendom be stronger or weaker had the Protestant Reformation never come to fruition? Would the Church be larger or smaller today? Would the world be more at peace, or more at war? Would more souls have been saved through baptism, or fewer?
Had the Dutch or the Norwegians or the Swiss never embraced Protestantism, the world might have looked much as it does today. It’s doubtful whether any one of these nations was large enough to turn the tide of the Wars of Religion. But what if England had never forsaken the Faith? And what if the prodigal daughter swallowed her pride and came home?
❧Donoso could only imagine. We can do a bit more. On March 29—this Sunday—England will be re-dedicated to Our Lady. Mr. Christopher Ortega writes exceptionally well in these pages today about why Americans ought to mark this occasion as well. Here, I would add, is its significance for the world:
American Catholics today tend to think of ourselves as members of a strategic alliance. Some follow the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” mode, where we place ourselves in league with the more politically influential force of fundamentalist Protestantism. Others take a slightly broader view, speaking of something called “Judeo-Christian civilization.” Still others muse about an “Ecumenism of the Trenches,” where traditional Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims will stand in array against the forces of left-wing secularism.
There’s a certain amount of virtue to each of these schools of thought. No right-minded Catholic would refuse to support Donald Trump because he’s a Presbyterian. And if Orthodox Jews voted for a conservative, Catholic governor because he’s unlikely to force their yeshivas to accept girls—why, that seems perfectly sensible.
But such ecumenism or inter-religious dialogue can, at best, only stanch the wounds in our society. It cannot heal them. For the social wounds are themselves only a symptom of a much deeper, far older fracture in the Church. The cracks began to show in 1517, when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg; they became fatal, perhaps, in 1534, when Henry VIII declared himself “Supreme Head of the Church of England.”
I believe, like Marqués de Valdegamas, that there can be no real victory but victory for the Faith. There can be no true help for the West except Christ, and we must seek Him (as He commands) through His Bride, the Church.
We cannot know what will happen when the English bishops return her dowry to Our Lady. It may be nothing dramatic: a consolation to the faithful and a joy to the saints. Or it may be—as Donoso foresaw—the beginning of a great Restoration that will undo all the revolutions that have torn Christendom apart.
“The cause of all your errors,” he warned his countrymen,
lies in your ignorance of the direction which civilization is taking. You believe that civilization and the world are advancing, when civilization and the world are regressing. The world is taking great strides towards the constitution of the most gigantic and destructive despotism which men have ever known. That is the trend of our world and civilization.“I do not need to be a prophet to predict these things,” he claimed (perhaps with a touch of false modesty); “it is enough to consider the fearful picture of human events from the only true viewpoint, from the heights of Catholic philosophy.” England once stood at the very summit of that awesome height. May she do so again. We need her now more than we ever have.
Our Lady of Walsingham, ora pro nobis.