The Corner

The First Enlightenment

Those of us who are of Catholic mind do not believe that the Enlightenment began with Kant (“What is Enlightenment?”), or Locke or Newton, or even with Descartes. We cherish Plato, Aristotle, Cicero. But the first Enlightenment began with Christ Our Lord.

It was only with the Christ that EQUALITY meant every human being, barring none. From then on, no one was “barbarian.” Each bore in his own soul the mark of being called to be a dwelling of the Father and the Son — being called beyond all other calls a son of God. Neither mother nor father, neither civil society nor state, can answer to this call for you or me. None has any deeper bond or precedence than the relation of Creator and human creature. It is a bond of Spirit and Truth.

Thus was revealed each human’s LIBERTY primordial, and in that liberty, EQUALITY with all. No other but self can say to the the Father “No,” or “Yes.” That choice is for each single one of us inalienable. That choice brings each into the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of all who are equal in the sight of God.

And that is how universal FRATERNITY became a human principle and an object of our striving.

Moreover, a singular feature of the coming of the Christ is that all have access to him — rich pagan kings riding from the East, Roman centurions (those who would put him to death, even they), Jew and Greek, and those of every nation, station, and state of virtue or of sin. From Bethlehem went out the message of the First Globalization — the global call to become one human family. But only by the narrow path of the free choice of each.

This was the First Enlightenment. There has been no deeper nor more all-embracing since.

From the streaming light of the marks of Christ’s coming — LIBERTY, FRATERNITY, EQUALITY — the Second Enlightenment (of Newton, Locke, Kant, Voltaire, and all the others) is derivative. Except that the second one would like to have these ideals, this vision, without God. And, if possible, while destroying the Christian Church. “Strangling the last king with the intestines of the last pope.” A dream of bloodshed. Christophobia.

And now we enter a period in the United States in which it is no longer true that our courts and laws consider ours a civilization uplifted by Christianity. Hatred for Christianity is running deeper, swifter. The day is upon us in which priests, bishops, evangelicals of all kinds, lay and clerical and of all Christian communities will be sent to jail.

To vote one’s conscience, or even to speak one’s conscience, on the matter of homosexual “marriage” more and more brings torrents of abuse.

The day has come, in the minds of some in power, that it is an abuse of human rights to hold abortion wrong. One would have thought that cutting short a life violates the natural right of the independent human being in the womb, just as surely as enslavement used to do. Turning things the other way, today some hold that for a doctor to refuse to take part in the abortion of a living child is to violate a woman’s right to kill the living one she carries.

If Christians must suffer even for the truths of reason that they hold, how will that be different from the first century after Christ was born, and many more? The world became Christian once by the hearing of the word. That did not prevent every one of the first apostles from being thrown in jail. The tradition may be coming back.

Michael Novak was a Catholic philosopher, journalist, novelist, and diplomat.

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