19 May 2009

Verdict: guilty!

6th Week of Easter (T): Acts 16.22-34; John 16.5-11
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Christianity is the “one great curse, the one great inmost corruption...the one immortal blemish of mankind” (Hovey 3). Thus spake Friedrich Nietzsche, the prophet of the anti-Christ. The British theologian, Craig Hovey, notes that Nietzsche “loathed Christianity, especially Christian morality. He thought Christians were irrational, self-deceived, repressed, and arrogant; he took Christian morality to be pettily reactionary and positively fatal to life…”(3). Will the prosecutor of the Church in his closing argument before the judge of the world rest his case and demand a guilty verdict? Do we stand convicted by the evidence of human history—the thoughts, words, and deeds of our own hearts and minds? Are we guilty? We can point to the hospitals and orphanages we have built. Our prosecutor can point to the injuries we have caused and the orphans we have made. We can point to the spread of the Gospel in the New World, the souls we brought to Christ. Our prosecutor can show the jury our destruction of whole cultures in the pursuit of gold and slaves, all the souls we lost to our greed. We can point to our tireless efforts to relieve poverty, hunger, and suffering. Our prosecutor can bring evidence of the poverty, hunger, and suffering we have caused. Are we guilty? Before the judge of the world and a jury of our peers, how do we plea? What is our defense?

If Nietzsche were to serve as our defense attorney, he might argue that though we have certainly committed the crimes the prosecution charges us with, but that we should be found not-guilty by reason of insanity. If indeed the Church is cursed, if we are an “immortal blemish” as he claims, the slaves of a herd mentality, following our basest instincts and primitive impulses, then we are irrational, self-deceived, little more than animals doing what animals do. He could simply repeat our crimes and ask, “What sane Church would do these things?” Would the judge and jury buy this plea? Would they look at us with contempt but nonetheless find us not-guilty?

Before the bench of the judge of this world, we have an Advocate, an intercessor, one who pleas on our behalf. Nietzsche would argue our insanity and ask that we be found not guilty because of it; our true Advocate knows we are guilty and makes no excuses. Our true Advocate knows our crimes better than we do because he became those very crimes for us. He can do more than merely show evidence of our sins, he can give personal testimony to them. He became sin for us, so that sin might be put to death and we might have eternal life. He knows we are guilty and loves us anyway. He loves us all the way to his cross, and he is with us as we approach ours.

Is the Church “irrational, self-deceived, repressed, and arrogant”? Are we “pettily reactionary and positively fatal to life”? Yes, we can be. This is not who we are fundamentally. But we are certainly capable of truthfully pleading guilty to the charges. At our worst, we are worse than the unbelievers and those who would persecute us. At our best, we are Christ for the world. The Good News is that we never again have to be anything or anyone less than Christ. Never again are we compelled by irrational instinct or inordinate passion or selfish greed to commit a single sin, not one crime against God, our world, or one another. We are free. Free from all that would acquit us on the grounds of insanity; free from all that would excuse our crimes as animalistic and primitive. We are free to love, to show mercy, to build tighter and tighter bonds of friendship. We are free because we have been freed by the mercy of the One Who sits in judgment.

Hovey, Craig. Nietzsche and Theology. T&T Clark, 2008.


  1. templariidvm1:16 PM

    TRUE Christianity is hardly due to a herd mentality! True faith leads us to act, speak and believe in a way that much of the world scorns. The easy way is the herd mentality. The way of the Cross is the farthest thing from the herd mentality and is FAR from easy.
    I only hope that if being a true Catholic were made a crime, there would be enough evidence to convict me!

  2. He's got it wrong, this guy. Nietzsche, is that his name? :)

    Love is progress in the evolution of humans, rather than insane or herd-like or backwards, etc. (Love being action on behalf of others, over self; and further, with awareness and a tap into the source of love. Concern for self is quite common, quite base.) Love is a highly evolved faculty compared to the baser faculties of instinct or emotion or rationale. I think he believed what he wrote; but his personal evolution was stunted based on writings so that makes sense.

    Not incidentally, I could 'see' the world at large while reading his description of the Church. I'm intimate with both, whereas he's only intimate with the world.

    As for our mistakes, being members of the Church or members of the mystical body of Christ, well, we make them like everyone else in the world, being human and all. But, unlike this guy and people like him, we tend to, albeit imperfectly, evolve past instinct and emotion and rationale - to love. Some in the Church never will, as some outside the Church never will. Some outside of the Church now, eventually will.

    In defense of those outside the Church, there are those who, while not of the Church, say they are, which confuses those outside of the Church.

    And finally, Father - for personal use only - I took your homily and changed the point of view. For example, I swapped the word 'Church' for the word 'world,' and swapped 'we' to 'they.' And so on. It turned out not a little interesting. I'll email it to you to check out the the 'damage.' :O !