Summary: Renaissance atheists ate, drank and were merry and ignored God’s teaching, because they thought of the Christian God as just another non-existent being who wanted to keep them from enjoying themselves.
Thursday of the 32nd Week in Course
The Pharisees were religious leaders in Israel at the time of Christ, and, like all pious Jews, they believed that God would send a Messiah to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. But most Jews thought that the kingdom would be brought by force, by the Messiah mustering an army, conquering Rome and establishing a reign like King David’s over a huge territory. But Jesus told the truth. Jesus WAS the Truth. The kingdom of God will be established when humans accept the destiny that was theirs in the original garden, to be images and likenesses of God by adopting for their own God’s will. That means a conversion of heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. We would be like Jesus and Mary when our every thought and action proclaimed to God, “Thy will be done.” You can’t impose that by force. It only fosters a revolutionary spirit.
The disciples are warned here, too, that their missionary lives and deaths would be such that they would more than once pray “Come, Lord Jesus,” just so their travail would end. But suffering in our mission of bringing Christ to everyone is essential to that mission. It’s what St. Paul calls the “birth pangs” of the Church. We will have emotional, mental and physical trials as we bring others to Christ and the Church.
But Christ is also pointing out that in every age Christians would think, “it’s so bad that surely these are the end-times.” Just a few years ago, in the midst of this trial that was the contraceptive mandate and upheaval in marriage laws, people were thinking that only the coming of the Lord could relieve the massive social and cultural ills that we call the “culture of death.” But Jesus continues to affirm that He is coming soon, but not quite yet. His merciful compassion is the reason. He wants to give all humans the opportunity to repent and let His spirit amend their lives–and ours!
In the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, many thought and preached that the end was near. We may recall that the heretic Wycliffe believed that the end of the fourteenth century would be the end of time. Corruption in the hierarchy was his target. Unfortunately, that kind of corruption didn’t end, and not all teachers were looking to Christ for the answers to human problems.
We think that atheism is some kind of modern invention. Only insofar as “modern” refers to what every believer confronts in every age. Remember that St. Francis lived in the modern times of the Middle Ages. So did Wycliffe, Luther and St. Pius V. They were Christians facing modern situations of their day–contemporary pressures of thought and action.
One of these pressures was from atheistic Epicureanism. Pagan religion was pretty simple: there were many competing gods. Humans realized that when gods got involved with their lives, usually something bad happened. So you led a conventional life and sacrificed to the gods and hoped they would ignore you, and after death you’d go to someplace not so bad. The Greeks Democritus and Epicurus were atheists because they wanted to release humans from the fear that kept them from being happy. They taught there were no gods, and that only matter exists. All change is just a shifting of the eternal atom from one form to another, and when you die, that’s it.
So Renaissance atheists ate, drank and were merry and ignored God’s teaching, because they thought of the Christian God as just another non-existent being who wanted to keep them from enjoying themselves. Some people even suspected the rake Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander, of being that kind of person. After all, he had at least four illegitimate children and multiple mistresses.
In that kind of situation, is the renegade monk, Martin Luther, a total surprise? He was to all externals a pious monk who went for his Order to Rome, and there saw all the nastiness and corruption of the hierarchy and lowerarchy. He had a sensitive conscience, probably scrupulous, and he was shocked. He didn’t see much of the goodness of the Church, but in God’s plan it was growing. Ignatius Loyola was twenty years old.