Carlo Maria Martini (1927-2012) - A Meditation on II Th. 2:7a
- Carlo M. Martini, textual critic, Roman Catholic scholar, and Archbishop of Milan (1980-2002), has passed away. We may know him best because of his work as part of the UBS compilation-committee, and because of his research on Codex Vaticanus and P75. But there was much more to the man. The following is something I have put together in hopes of sharing part of his character and insight which we who tend to focus on his text-critical work might have missed. (It is based on, and consists mainly of extracts from, pages 93-100 of his book "The Gospel According to St. Paul," part of a chapter first published in 2001 in the Italian work "L'assurdo di Auschwitz e il misteri della croce.")
A Meditation on Second Thessalonians 2:7a -
"For the mystery of lawlessness [iniquity] is already at work."
Jacques Maritain wrote, "The advance of history is a twofold simultaneous progress in good and evil." It cannot be denied that evil is progressing when we observe the forces that were manifested at Auschwitz. The power of evil on earth is growing. But the power of the Lord Jesus is also growing, and Jesus will one day destroy the mystery of evil with the breath of his mouth.
We are in the period of history to which Paul refers when he says, "The mystery of iniquity is already at work," even though it is not completely revealed. Paul sometimes refers to the antithesis of this quantity; the mystery of salvation, which is at work in Christ and which will be more fully revealed at his parousia. The mystery of iniquity is a plan of perdition, the counterpoint to God's plan of salvation. Its goals are the destruction, humiliation, oppression, and annihilation of human beings.
Iniquity is at work in individual souls, whenever a person decides to deviate from what is good, or to cause the absence of good. The number of crimes committed each year is very high; this ferment of evil pervades humanity. Yet this is merely the surface of the mystery of iniquity.
Iniquity is at work collectively, when it emanates from nations, organizations, or ethnic groups. It occurs when moral disorders become infectious, and consequently individuals must perform heroic acts to extricate themselves from the pressure of collective sin and the structures of injustice. When iniquity is at work collectively, its accomplices are those who are lazy, those who refuse to think, and those who, being overly eager for entertainment and success, pursue immediate gratification. These attitudes enable evil to advance by providing excuses to avoid pronouncing judgment upon the situation; they cause a dull and desensitized lack of vision, viewing but overlooking moral evils and the suffering of others. Against this collective evil which, unlike crimes committed by individuals, threatens whole societies, we must develop an examination of cultural conscience.
Iniquity is also at work ideologically, magnifying both the individual and collective expressions of evil. The advocates of iniquity are not content to have iniquity be set up as an idol in the temple of God; they aspire to make it an object of worship in the temples of science and philosophy. Isaiah referred to this situation: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isaiah 5:20). The ideological advancement of evil occurs when evil is declared rational, profitable, and a step of inevitable progress. It provides a basis for evil not built upon weakness or passion, but upon a false portrayal of evil as something good.
In a society where violence and injustice are legalized and legitimized by a dominant class under the influence of the claim that the evil is merely an expression of culture, evil multiplies without resistance apart from the resistance of a few heroes and that society falls into a darkened condition. According to the apostle's words, we are not so very far away from that. We tell ourselves that the worst will not happen, and that we will commit all our energy to prevent iniquity from spreading everywhere. But this mystery is strongly at work energeitai. Woe therefore to those who complacently lower their guard, deluding themselves that there will not be another Auschwitz! Human wickedness continually lies in ambush. Although we might be afraid to think about that, recent history tells us that it would be an error not to think about it.
What then can be done? I will suggest three points that may help each of you to personally reflect and apply what we are meditating upon today.
First, do not be surprised by the advancement of the mystery of iniquity. It is true that evil should not occur, but Jesus and the authors of the New Testament cautioned us not to rage against the mystery of evil, whether it is expressed in a large-scale form or in a commonplace form. Throughout history evil has increased, not decreased, and this trend continues today. It is out of place for us to ask, when confronted with iniquity, "Why didn't the kingdom of God triumph over this?" When God's kingdom appeared, it sprang up in a field of evil, in a world overshadowed by the power of the evil one. Interpretations of history that do not take this into account are insufficient and delusional. May we have the clarity that is needed for those who are called to face the mystery of iniquity.
Second, maintain a vigilant attitude in order to discover the unfolding of the plan of salvation in the center of the mystery of evil. The weeds of evil are always growing, but in the same field the mystery of salvation is always blossoming. Only by maturely orienting our perspective to perceive this twofold reality can we avoid bitterness, frustration, and pessimism. We are encouraged to pursue this maturity -- to gain the ability to understand the components (even when they seem insignificant) of the plan of God and the schemes of Satan, of the mystery of salvation and the mystery of evil. We are invited to be vigilant prophets.
Third, expect to be hurt and wounded in some way by the mystery of evil. Remember the words of my episcopal motto: "Pro veritate adversa diligere" ["To love adversity for the sake of truth" a quotation from Gregory the Great]. As followers of Christ we should expect to be touched by adversity, to be pierced, trusting that the Lord will preserve us from being crushed.
Evil can be expressed as an individual wrongdoing, or as a collective movement, or as an idea. But on its most important and most basic level, evil is rebellion against God, and a rejection of God and of his merciful love. Such evil creates an abyss between us and God, the extent of which we cannot fathom except in some small measure, when we contemplate the Crucified One, when we linger before the torn and wounded heart of Jesus.
-- We beseech you, Heart of Christ, pierced by human evil, help us understand at least a little of what you experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane regarding the mystery of iniquity. Help us see it as you see it, in such a way that we can succeed, in union with you, in combating and overcoming it in our flesh and in our lives. --
Yours in Christ,
James Snapp, Jr.