For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers … against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)
It’s not easy to discern the role played by the spiritual hosts of wickedness in world affairs. No one knows with any certainty what is going on in that realm, or what part the principalities and powers play in shaping events. But these are exceedingly strange times—so strange that it is difficult to make sense of some of what is happening from a this-worldly perspective. So it seems worthwhile to try to understand some phenomena from an other-worldly viewpoint.
One of the strangest developments of our times is the Church’s response to Islam and Islamic migration. Since the response runs entirely counter to the Church’s historical response, it seems legitimate to wonder if other-worldly forces are at play. If that’s the case, it should not be unexpected. Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church, but the implication of his words is that hell would surely try.
Over the years, various popes have testified to this effort. In the late nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII reportedly had a vision of demonic spirits during the celebration of Mass. This led him to institute the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel (“be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil”), which is said at the end of a Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form. In more recent times, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in 1972, Pope Paul VI delivered a sermon warning that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”
What may come as a surprise to those who worry about Pope Francis’s liberal tendencies is that he also has frequently warned of Satan’s influence. A few months after his election, he consecrated Vatican City State to St. Michael the Archangel who “defends the people of God from the arch-enemy par excellence, the devil.” When he was a cardinal in Argentina, he described a legislative proposal to redefine marriage as “a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
If the smoke of Satan can enter the Catholic Church, there is no reason to suppose it cannot enter other religions as well. Without getting into the question of whether Muhammad was deceived by Satan, as some maintain, it is probable that Satan seeks to influence the direction of Islam just as he strives to have a malign influence on the Catholic Church.
It may be, then, that the current situation of the Church vis-à-vis Islam is due in part to a dual assault—one aimed at heightening Islam’s traditional aggressiveness, and the other aimed at weakening the Church’s traditional defenses. The result is a kind of dance of death: a ramping up of Islamic militancy matched by an exaggerated emphasis on tolerance, openness, and welcoming on the part of Catholics.
If this is the case, then one manifestation of the Catholic folly might be the Church’s attitude toward mass Muslim migration. Many Catholic leaders think of Muslim migration as no different from other migrations. For them it is simply a question of being welcoming or unwelcoming, of being charitable or uncharitable. But many Muslim leaders view migrations in a different light. For them it is not a question of loving one’s neighbor, it is a question of who is to be master.
If history continues on its present course, Islam will be the master of much of Europe within a relatively short time. This change of ownership will result from a combination of migration, high birth rates, and willful blindness on the part of Europe’s leaders. And it will result in a great deal of misery. The astonishing thing is that this massive threat to Europe and European Christianity scarcely registers in the Vatican. To the extent that it does register, it is dismissed as a low priority concern. Witness the pope’s recent claim that the safety of refugees should be given priority over national security.
For the most part, however, concerns over Muslim aggressiveness are simply brushed aside. Such concerns are viewed by Church leaders as signs of intolerance, Islamophobia, and xenophobia. Since the term “phobia” refers to an irrational fear, the suggestion is that the fears are groundless. But those who fear Islam’s spread seem to have the facts on their side. Their concern are grounded not only in the frequent knife, bomb, and truck attacks, but also in extensive data about the connection between Muslim migration and skyrocketing rates of violent and non-violent crime in Europe.
Against the hard evidence that increased immigration will be suicidal for Europe, the pope offers vague humanistic sentiments about “encounter,” “mutual enrichment,” and the beneficial effect of “the exchange between cultures.” Pope Francis says that those Europeans who resist migration are guilty of “intolerance, discrimination, and xenophobia.” That may be true of some, but many are simply worried that they or their children will become victims of assault or worse. The failure to recognize these legitimate fears is a form of hardheartedness. Moreover, the pie-in-the-sky attitude toward the migration situation on the part of many in the hierarchy could be considered a form of presumption.
Consider a couple of lines from Pope Francis’s address to the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe (CCEE) in September. “Temptations to exclusiveness and cultural entrenchment have not been wanting in the history of the Church,” said the pope, “but the Holy Spirit has always helped us to overcome them, guaranteeing a constant openness toward the other, considered as a concrete possibility of growth and enrichment.” He continues: “the Holy Spirit will help us to keep an attitude of trusting openness that will allow us to overcome every barrier and scale every wall.”
This seems to border on presumption. It’s a little akin to saying “If you jump off the cliff in a spirit of trust, the Holy Spirit won’t let you fall.” It was “trusting openness” that got Europe into its present predicament, but Francis is suggesting that the Holy Spirit will get us out of whatever further mess we create if only we accelerate the rate of trusting openness.
I may be overlooking something, but I don’t recall any Biblical injunctions to “constant openness” or “trusting openness” in regard to one’s fellow man. Instead, there are quite a few warnings about the untrustworthiness of fallen man.
Pope Francis appears to be ignoring the warnings. As social critic Hugh Fitzgerald puts it:
At any time, such naivete and heedlessness as Pope Francis exhibits would be difficult to take. At this moment in world history, when the leader of the Catholic Church appears determined not to understand the meaning, and menace, of Islam, while Christians are everywhere under assault by Muslims, and Muslims are knocking at Europe’s gates and demanding to be let in without delay… his complacent buonismo [goody-goodiness] is intolerable.
In short, the pope’s response is almost the exact opposite of the response that the times seem to require. The major event of our time is the reemergence of Islam on the world stage. Yet Francis, along with others in the hierarchy, is acting as though this were still the sixties—a time when Islam was relatively quiescent. As a result, he responds to the resurgence of Islamic terror with 60s-era bromides about “encounter” and “openness.”
By all accounts, the devil is immensely intelligent. It’s been said that one of his greatest achievements in modern times is to convince people that he doesn’t exist. It may be that his second biggest achievement is to convince Church leaders that Islam is not a threat at that precise moment when the threat to Christians is growing exponentially.
If indeed the Church leadership is being subject to an assault from below, it is a particularly clever one. That’s because it takes advantage of the best Christian instincts—particularly the impulse to charity. The most persuasive part of the hierarchy’s appeal to welcome Muslim migrants, no matter how many, are the constant reminders that this is what Christ wants us to do. When the pope recently launched the “Share the Journey” campaign for solidarity with migrants, he observed that “Christ himself asks us to welcome our brother and sister migrants with arms wide open.” On other occasions he has said that “we see the face of Christ himself” in the face of migrants. On still other occasions he has likened the journey of refugees to the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.
Even if it’s being misapplied, the appeal to scripture is difficult to resist. It somehow seems small-minded and selfish to worry about personal safety when we are reminded of Christ’s words, “I was a stranger and you took me in.”
Still, one has to wonder about charitable impulses that facilitate the takeover of Europe by a decidedly anti-Christian religious ideology. How charitable is it to consign Europeans, their children, and their grandchildren to a life of bloodshed and civil war, or else to a life of subservient dhimmitude such as Christians now experience in many parts of the Muslim world?
So, the Church’s welcoming response to Islam and Islamic migration can be looked upon as a shining example of Christian charity, or it can be looked upon as an example of stubborn foolishness and presumption in the face of a fast-spreading evil. It’s a devilishly complicated situation. And that should make us wonder if the devil himself isn’t intimately involved in it.
Of course, as I admitted at the outset, this is speculation. No one knows for certain how supernatural powers affect human events. It could be that, looked at from the perspective of eternity, the pope has chosen the right path. The subjugation of Europe by Islam could be a necessary part of God’s plan. An Islamic takeover of Europe might conceivably be a chastisement for European decadence: the natural and supernatural effect of decades of birth control, abortion, and self-centeredness.
Or it could be that the entry en masse of Muslims into Europe will be the occasion of their conversion. Pope Francis seems to be of this mind. On several occasions he has spoken of migration as a cultural encounter and exchange which leads almost inevitably to the mutual enrichment of the cultures involved. In his talk to the CCEE, Francis said that “the Church has spread through every continent thanks to the ‘migration’ of so many missionaries.” Now, he seems to envision a reverse process in which potential converts migrate to Christian lands and encounter both the generosity of Christians and the spirit of European humanism. The pope seems to believe that this encounter can lead to conversion as long as we have faith that “the Holy Spirit will help us to keep an attitude of trusting openness that will allow us to overcome every barrier and scale every wall.”
Maybe so. But, once again, this smacks of presumption. All the historical evidence suggests that when Muslims move into other cultures either by migration or by conquest, conversions are a one-way street. With a few exceptions, Muslims don’t convert to the faith of the people they encounter. The non-Muslims convert to Islam. Christian North Africa—the land of St. Augustine—succumbed to Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries, and it has never been re-Christianized. To expect that today’s European Christians can accomplish what the hardier Christians of 1300 years ago could not is highly presumptuous.
As mentioned earlier, Pope Francis is acutely aware of Satan’s ability to manipulate Christians. But he is also in many ways a man of the left. As such, he is vulnerable to the liberal illusion that there is no enemy on the left. He also seems disposed toward the multicultural illusion that there can be no enemy among the “other.” Thus Francis would have difficulty accepting the reality of a major threat from Islam, let alone from a left-Islamic alliance.
The pope is not oblivious to the possibility of a dark-forces assault on the Church. But in all probability he is expecting the devil to strike from the right by exploiting the fears of all those culturally entrenched xenophobes and Islamophobes who want to build walls instead of bridges.
That’s one way of looking at it. But another, more likely scenario, is that the devil is exploiting the gullibility of liberal clergy and laymen—those Catholics that barely believe in his existence, but believe very firmly in openness, encounter, and the peaceful intentions of Islam.
This article originally appeared in the October 2, 2017 edition of Crisis