Newman’s Gerontius — The second Demon — Naturalism

St Benedict saved from the poison

“But, when some child of grace, Angel or Saint, Pure and upright in his integrity Of nature, meets the demons on their raid, They scud away as cowards from the fight. Nay, oft hath holy hermit in his cell, Not yet disburden’d of mortality, Mock’d at their threats and warlike overtures; Or, dying, when they swarm’d, like flies, around, Defied them, and departed.”

The second demon to fly at Gerontius represents a form of naturalism — an ideology that denies the supernatural reality of grace and the unending life of the saints. The scoffing demon first exhibits the spirit of rationalism:

The mind bold And independent,
The purpose free, So we are told,
Must not think To have the ascendant

What’s a saint? One whose breath Doth the air taint Before his death;
A bundle of bones, Which fools adore, Ha! ha! When life is o’er;
Which rattle and stink, E’en in the flesh. We cry his pardon!
No flesh hath he; Ha! ha! For it hath died,
‘Tis crucified Day by day, Afresh, afresh, Ha! ha! That holy clay, Ha! ha!
This gains guerdon, So priestlings prate, Ha! ha!
Before the Judge, And pleads and atones
For spite and grudge, And bigot mood,
And envy and hate, And greed of blood.

The demon begins by asserting its independence — like the rationalism displayed in the first demon. The mind fancies itself “bold” because it has no purpose and it can scoff at will.

And this demon hits hard — what if . . what if  . . . this life is all there is? Then death has the ascendant. There are no saints — they are foul in life, and nothing but bones after this life is over. Only fools would adore the bones of a “saint” because there is no other life, so scoffs the demon of naturalism. (Ironically when Newman’s body was exhumed, there were not even bones. To dust he had returned. But he lives! In God, in heaven at the great banquet.)

And in this life, the saint is a double fool because he dies to his flesh every day — for nothing. He is but “holy clay” a paltry worthless thing.

And there very prayer is a cover for “spite and grudge.” There are no saints and there is no sanctity. All is selfishness and all is vain. All is envy and hate — such as the demons. There is no other life than the life of self. The world of Sartre — hell is other people.

But next to the angel the soul exclaims: “How impotent they are! and yet on earth They have repute for wondrous power and skill; And books describe, how that the very face Of the Evil One, if seen, would have a force Even to freeze the blood, and choke the life Of him who saw it.”

We so fear the mockery of the bold and independent mind who reduces through his mockery the aspirations to holiness. We are weak, we are flesh — maybe . . . that  is all there is, we may think in a moment of weakness or doubt. We are frozen and choked by this demon of despair.

But now the angel agrees, on earth, the demons were “nestled close” and could take on a majestic appearance:

In thy trial-state Thou hadst a traitor nestling close at home, Connatural, who with the powers of hell Was leagued, and of thy senses kept the keys, And to that deadliest foe unlock’d thy heart. And therefore is it, in respect of man, Those fallen ones show so majestical. 

But sanctity proves itself in the very witness and deeds, in its very odor of holiness:

But, when some child of grace, Angel or Saint, Pure and upright in his integrity Of nature, meets the demons on their raid, They scud away as cowards from the fight. Nay, oft hath holy hermit in his cell, Not yet disburden’d of mortality, Mock’d at their threats and warlike overtures; Or, dying, when they swarm’d, like flies, around, Defied them, and departed

We need the saints to encourage us on the journey, to give flight to lie of naturalism. Holiness is possible. The life of the soul endures to eternal life. There is more to this life than flesh and bone. Pope John Paul II proclaimed: “love is stronger than death. Love is stronger than sin.” The spirit of naturalism would scoff at his message, the good news.

Keep close the medal of holy St Benedict to help ward off those nestling spirits of old:

On the back of the medal, the cross is dominant. On the arms of the cross are the initial letters of a rhythmic Latin prayer: Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux! (May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!). In the angles of the cross, the letters C S P B stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (The cross of our holy father Benedict).

Above the cross is the word pax (peace), that has been a Benedictine motto for centuries. Around the margin of the back of the medal, the letters V R S N S M V – S M Q L I V B are the initial letters, as mentioned above, of a Latin prayer of exorcism against Satan: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!)

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