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Fulton Sheen: The Fourth Great Crisis in the Church

November 16, 2020

In this conference, I’m going to tell you about the way the world is going, and what we may expect, and what we should do.

First of all, we are at the end of Cristendom. Now, not Christianity, not the Church. Remember, what I am saying. We’re at the end of Christendom. What is Christendom?

Christendom is the economic, political, social life as inspired by Christian principles, that is finished. We’ve seen it die. Look at the symptoms: break up of the family; divorce, abortion, immorality, general dishonesty.

About 50 years ago, in one of the big Protestant in churches of New York, a Mrs. Vanderbilt came into this church after her divorce and all of the Protestant people turned their backs on her. That would not happen today.

The greatest historian of our times, and he has written 10 volumes on the study of history, has said that of 22 civilizations which have decayed from the beginning of the world, up until the present time, 19 decayed from within, only 3 from without.

Lincoln said, “I have no fear that America will ever be destroyed without but I fear that it may be destroyed from within.”

There are two kinds of barbarians, the active barbarians from without and the passive barbarians from within. We are not in as much danger from the active barbarians as we are from the passive ones.

Anyone was been in this country and left it for five years and then comes back is shocked at what he sees. We live in it from day to day and we do not see the decline, we take it for granted, we get used to things and almost accept them as the rule.

I could go on to labor this point but I think that you have sufficient experience to realize that the air that we breath, the press that we read, the television that we see is, in no instance, inspired by Christian principles. As a matter of fact there is, on the part of many of us, the tendency to go down, to meet the world, not to lift the world up. We are afraid of being unpopular, so we go with the mob.

So this is my first point, we are at the end of Christendom. Not of Christianity, not of the Church.

Now, let us think of the Church.

Within this body of culture, and I’m speaking of the Western world, the strongest part of the world, even from the natural point of view, is in Russia and China. There’s hardly any immorality in China. There are no conductors on London buses, you just drop your a coin in. Can you imagine who would take a bus here if there were no one to collect fare, who would ever pay, I mean? The natural virtues are a thousand times higher in the Communist country than here. We’re not speaking the supernatural virtues, but that could well be too on account of the sufferings of the Christians there.

So, in regards the Church, we are living in the fourth five-hundred-year period of Church history. And the Church is not a continuing thing. It dies and [rises] again. It proceed on the principle of Christ himself as priest and victim. We go along for a while and we die, like the serpent we shed our skin, like nature itself we shed our leaves, and there comes a defeat, seeing decay, we’re put in the grave, and then we rise again.

We’ve had four deaths in our Christian history.

The first was the fall of Rome, in the first five hundred year period–although Rome actually fell at the beginning of the fifth century. Rome had become Christian. There had been martyrs, saints, for two centuries or more, and then suddenly after Rome becomes Christian, lo and behold the active barbarians from without come in and destroy Rome. And Rome fell as nothing has fallen since Satan fell from the heavens.

Poor Saint Jerome was in the cave in Bethlehem doing the Scriptures, he said, “the whole world was turned upside down.”

And Saint Augustine, this great bishop of Northern Africa would go about preaching on the fall of Rome, and he talked about it so much that people used to say, “se pace de Roma–oh, if he’d only shut up about Rome!” He spent 18 years writing the City of God. You can find that in English translation in the St Augustine’s commentary on the fall of Rome, blaming it on the Christians.

But Church died then, and then what happened then? It came to birth, then became missionary, then. Then Augustine went to England, Patrick to Ireland, Cyril and Methodius to Eastern Europe.

Then began the rebirth of the Church. Then, around the year 1000, we had another decay. There was the Muslim invasions. The Muslims swept within 120 miles of Paris, the great battle of Poitier, and then they came around, formed a Cresent, came up to the gates of Vienna.

And then we had the schisms; the schism of Constantinople, of Photios and Michael Cerularius, which the church was split seemed to be the end of everything. And then we came to life again. Then came the third period, when the church became rotten, when nuns began defecting, as the are today, priests began defecting of the are today, the pontiffs were not good. Pope Leo the 10th was away from Rome for two months on a hunting trip. The Church was at an end.

Then the Reformers came, but the Reformers almost always reform the wrong thing. They began reforming the Faith. There was nothing wrong with faith. It was the morals that needed to be reformed. It’s not a renewal, really, it is a moral reformation that is needed today too.

So, that was the third death. Then we came to life again. Now we’re in the fourth period, and we’re rotting; we’re spoiled. No great zeal, no great learning, no great fire, we’re just against things, so often.

So, the Church is being declared dead. It’s a favorite pastime of the press to write articles that Christianity is dead.

But anyone who knows history is not particularly disturbed. But the enemy of each of the 500 year period has been separate and distinct. We had, and here I am speaking of enemies generally within the Church, in the first 500 years, the rotting process came from false doctrines, centering around the historical person of Christ. Who was he? How many intellects did he have? How many wills did he have? How many natures? How many persons? They were called the Christological heresies. So, the Church was just split open, and that was one of the reasons that made it possible for the Muslims to develop, because we became so technical in our theology in those days, people were looking for simplicity. Just as in New England, we got way got Unitarians out of Calvinistic extremes in this country, so too we got Muslimism out of all of the theological refinements and distinctions of the first five centuries. Those were the attacks.

And for the next 100 years, the attack was really on the head of the church, because the Eastern Church broke with the authority of the successor of Peter. And these were the errors we had to combat.

In the 16th century, it was not the head that was attacked, it was the body; the body of Christ, the mystical body, the Church.

What is the attack today? It is not schisms about the historical Christ. It is not an attack on the head. It is not an attack on the body of the Church. Our enemy today is the world; the Spirit of the World.

Today, we have to conform to the world or we’re branded.

Our Lord said, I have taken you out of the world. We say, no, we have to win the world, and to win it, you have to be one with it. Our Lord said, I pray not for the world, he was praying for the spirit of the world.

And this is the easiest, easiest kind of way to fall off the log, is worldliness, it’s so simple. And if we justified by 1000 reasons, namely the Vatican Council said we had to go into the world. Indeed, but not to be worldly, which is quite a different matter. So this is our attack today.

There are three classes of people in the world: wise men, knaves, and fools. Wise men deem to do good and they do it. Knaves deem to do evil and do it. The fools will do right or wrong, depending upon which is the more popular. They’re divided into white fools and black fools, the white fools would rather do what is right, but will do wrong if it’s popular, and the black fools would rather do wrong, but they will do right if that happens to be popular.

Now, this is the situation we’re in today and this is one of the basic causes of our degeneration of our death. We’re dying, What about it? What’s the answer?

The answer is these are great and wonderful days in which to be alive. I thank God that I’m young. Don’t laugh, now. I thank God that I’m young in order that I can live in these days. Because these days of testing. 20 years ago, 30, 40 years ago, it was easy to be questioned. The atmosphere was Christian, morals were Christian. There was no great problem in adapting ourselves to a Christian society. But now, when everything has turned around these days with the masks have got to come off, and we reveal ourselves just as we really are.

Then we could float with the current. Today the current against us. And today the mood of the world is, go with the world, go with the spirit. Dead bodies float downstream. Only live bodies resist the current.

And so, the good Lord is testing us. That’s why these are great days. He tested the Russian Christian with Communism. He tested the German Christians with Nazism, and how many fell? And He is testing the Western Christians with worldliness. And how many of us are falling?

Read the story of the Israelites in the desert. God said, I tested you for forty years. That’s what he’s doing. We’re showing what we really are now.

Saint John says in his epistle, he said, “they did not love us, really, from the beginning, that is why they left us.” And so, the souls that are falling away are just failing to meet the test. Very much like the test that the Jews had when they the one time they were within 12 miles of a Holy Land, it only took three weeks to come from Egypt. There were 40 years wandering in the desert. Why? Because of their disobedience. Now the Lord sent them around in circles, going crazy in that desert. And then, when finally they came to the very a point where they were to enter, Moses sent spies in, to cross over the river Jordan, they went into Jericho–close by. They came back and they said to Moses, the people are as numerous grasshoppers and the walls reach to the heavens.

The Hebrew language has no superlative degrees, so they talk like your children. Children would say, oh, it reached up to the stars, that was the Hebrew way of staying that the walls were very high. And for a multitude of men, well, they were like grasshoppers because they were common. So when the twelve came back, ten of them said, we cannot go in, they are too strong.

The majority report–the majority is not always right. A bad majority could vote us out of a democracy. So, we cannot go in because they were the majority they began to affect all of the Israelites. But no, we can’t go in now. Two of them–the minority report–Caleb and Joshua. Caleb and Joshua said, sure they’re big, sure they’re strong, sure they’re numerous, but God said it’s our land, and we can take it! And they were the only two that went into the Promise Land. There was one whole generation of Jews that perished in that desert. And of the 12, only these two, Caleb and Joshua, enter the Promised Land.

The minority report, and that’s what we’re going to have in the church is a minority report; a minority report of sisters, a minority report of a priests, a minority report of laity; not the minority that’s aggressive and problem-making, but the minority like Caleb and Joshua, that trust in God.

So we’re tested just as the Jews were tested. And God is doing with us, perhaps today, what he did with Gideon.

Remember, Gideon had to go out to meet the army. The Medianites had an army of 65,000.

And God said, “Gideon, Your army is too great.” Gideon had had 30,000 soldiers to meet an army of 65,000. And God said, “your army is too great.”

God said to Gideon, tell your cowards to leave. How many cowards? 20,000.

Gideon had 10,000 men. God said, “your army’s too great. Send them to the river and watch them drink.”

Some of them threw themselves prone upon their stomachs and drank leisurely and comfortably and sufficiently. Another line along the riverbank lapped up the water with her hands in the fashion of dogs and drank.

And God said, “that’s your Army, the 300, but I’ll be with you.”

And, of course, Gideon won.

So these days, therefore, our ranks are being thinned. God does not expressly say to the Church, “tell your cowards to leave.” They just leave. God doesn’t make it some kind of a papal decision, say that, well, the majority opinion is wrong, those that get the ear of the press. Nobody allows things to work out this particular way.

Then will come, not in our time, but not far after our time. And perhaps in the time of something then will come the battles of the testing. Our Lord said, “Satan will sift you as wheat,” and we’re being sifted as wheat.

So we can all thank God that we live in these days. Really, it’s beautiful. Now, we can say I aye or nay. We can bear up under assault, criticism, ridicule, because this is the love of the Christians in the days of the Spirit of the World.

The great poet T. S. Eliot wrote a poem about antiheroes. That’s why should men love the Church, in which he very subtly suggests maybe hard times are coming for the creative minority, and why we should love the Church in these days…

It is hard for those who have never known persecution and who have never known a Christian to believe these tales of Christian persecution…

And that is true. I have talked to audiences and told them about, for example, the suffering the missionaries, the sufferings of some Russian people that I know that suffered for their faith, and they would not believe it.

And Eliot goes on to say…

It is hard for those who live near a Bank
To doubt the security of their money.
It is hard for those who live near a Police Station
To believe in the triumph of violence.
Do you think that the Faith has conquered the World
And that lions no longer need keepers?
Do you need to be told that whatever has been, can still be?
Do you need to be told that even such modest attainments
As you can boast in the way of polite society
Will hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance?
Men! polish your teeth on rising and retiring;
Women! polish your fingernails:
You polish the tooth of the dog and the talon of the cat.

…In other words, there’s going to be opposition…

Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.
They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be.

But the Son of Man is crucified always
And there shall be Martyrs and Saints.
And if the blood of Martyrs is to flow on the steps
We must first build the steps;
And if the Temple is to be cast down
We must first build the Temple.

Choruses from The Rock, T.S. Eliot

It is not a gloomy picture. It is a picture of the Church in the midst of increasing opposition from the world. And therefore, live your lives in the full consciousness of this, our testament, and rally close to the heart of Christ.

So, what we have to do, who are the minority, for there will always be those, for example, who will not even want to hear, lest they be called upon to change.

And if there is anything that has to be restored in our day, I would say it would be violence. Violence. The Kingdom of Heaven is won by violence and only the violent shall conquer it.

Just as we begin to drop something in the Church, the world begins to pick it up. As we drop celibacy, some of the Protestant religions are today asking for celibate men to go on the missions. As we drop our beads hippies pick them up and hang them around their neck. As the nuns drop the long habits, the girls put on Maxi coats. As we drop mysticism, the young people go in for pharmaceuticals and drugs. Everything that we’re dropping, they are picking up. And we dropped violence, discipline, commitment to the cross, and the world picked it up, and that’s why it’s unsafe in the streets. That’s why there’s no stopping the violence in this country. We just have to buy more locks, hire more police guards, build more hospitals for the addicts. Why? Because there’s no more reason on the inside why they should stop.

Dostoevsky said, there are two ages to man: the ascent of man to the death of God, of from the death of God to the annihilation of man. When God is denied, everything is allowable. So when we drop, drop, discipline, mortification in our own lives, the world will begin to pick it up. This is the why we’re paying for dropping it.

Our Blessed Lord said, I have come to bring the sword, not peace!

We’re always talking about peace, peace, peace, yes, because of that war. But we’re not making war on ourselves, and there’s not going to be any peace in the world until we make war.

Our Lord said, I came not the bring peace but the sword. He never used the word ‘peace’ until after Easter. That’s one of the reasons I always find it hard to join in a prayer for peace, it’s just simply a kind of a prayer which we forget, that’s all we have to do is say, dear Lord, listen to us, we don’t want to be trouble, we’ve got the boys being killed, but we’ll just go on the way we are.

That’s not peace.

Our Lord brought the sword, not the sword to thrust outward against the enemy, the swords that cuts inward against ourselves, cutting out the seven pall-bearers of the soul; pride and covetousness, lust and anger, envy, gluttony, and sloth. And we’ve given up the sword, someone else has taken it up. And we have to restore it. Then we’ll get peace.

And peace is never corporate, it’s never social, until it is, first, individual. Social peace, world peace is the extension of individual peace in our hearts. When were right with God then we’ll be right with our fellow man. When we’re not right with God, then we’ll be wrong with everyone else. That’s the reasoned explanation Saint James gives of wars.

That is why, this holy hour, the reason that this retreat has been based around the holy hour: a little violence to ourselves.

I hope that all of you will take it seriously, every single day, one continuous hour before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, not only for our own souls, for the world, and to strengthen our minority.

As others are leaving, we’ll be stronger. The Lord is keeping reserves, he’s training us. We’ll make the entry. We’ll prepare for a new church. And he’s with us. We just simply cannot lose, we’ve already won, as a matter of fact. Only the news has not yet leaked out.

So, it’s violence that has to be restored. And the great enemy that we hear is the enemy that said to our Lord on the cross, come down, we’ll believe. We’ll believe! We’ll believe anything you say if you don’t mention the cross.

Will you believe what Our Lord said about the Trinity?


About the Eucharist?


About naming Peter?

Yes! We’ll believe anything they said, anything, but just come down from that cross. That’s all! We ask that what we hear today on retreat tell us about liturgy. Tell us about the social order. Tell us about injustices. Talk politics. Anything will believe anything you say. Only don’t talk the cross. Stop it! Come down, we’ll believe.

But he did not come down. Why? Because the human to come down. Because if he came down, he never would have saved us. It’s divine to hang there.

Transcript provided by WQPH