Last week I introduced you to Fabrice Hadjadj whose Faith of the Demons which is not available in English, only in Polish and Spanish translations, and the French original, Foi des démons ou l’athéisme dépassé.
Hadjadj pulls off one of the most devious moves in all of writing with the setup I’m going to tell you about.
He develops his theory of Satan as a being whose domain lies in tempting us into a pure spirituality. The analysis owes a lot to the work of Rene Girard, especially in I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, who has popularized the notion of Satan as the Accuser, the one who points out the sins of others, rather than admitting his own. Pure spirituality consists of aping this Satanic tendency.
Hadjadj’s setup consists of prefacing the following passage by saying it sounds like it could come from one the the Desert Fathers:
I often feel that we will have to undergo all the trials the devil and hell can devise before we achieve Final Victory. I may be no pious churchgoer, but deep within me I am nevertheless a devout man. That it to say, I believe that he who fights valiantly obeying the laws which a God has established and who never capitulates but instead gathers his forces time after time and always pushes forward–such a man will not be abandoned by the Lawgiver. Rather, he will ultimately receive the blessing of Providence. And that blessing has been imparted to all great spirits in history.
Quite impressive isn’t it? Admit it, you’re pretty much on board with the program sometime before you get through half of it. After you finish the full quote Hadjadj tells you, well, I’m going to write it in lower case letters to not spoil it for your wandering eyes: it’s from adolf hitler.
The passage is lifted out of Alfred Speer’s memoir Inside the Third Reich. Speer was hitler’s Minister of Armaments and War Production.
Augustine was no stranger to certain versions of pure spirituality because of his Manichean background. It took him a while to take to the full incarnate spirituality of Christianity. You can see some of this in the extended passage from Book XXII, Chapter 8 of the City of God below. He’s barely able to pray for the saving of his benefactor’s butt. Nobody gets to the, if you will, tail end of this book, because TL;DR. But there’s so much fun stuff packed, stacked into these words:
But who but a very small number are aware of the cure which was wrought upon Innocentius, ex-advocate of the deputy prefecture, a cure wrought at Carthage, in my presence, and under my own eyes? For when I and my brother Alypius, who were not yet clergymen, though already servants of God, came from abroad, this man received us, and made us live with him, for he and all his household were devotedly pious. He was being treated by medical men for fistulæ, of which he had a large number intricately seated in the rectum. He had already undergone an operation, and the surgeons were using every means at their command for his relief. In that operation he had suffered long-continued and acute pain; yet, among the many folds of the gut, one had escaped the operators so entirely, that, though they ought to have laid it open with the knife, they never touched it. And thus, though all those that had been opened were cured, this one remained as it was, and frustrated all their labor. The patient, having his suspicions awakened by the delay thus occasioned, and fearing greatly a second operation, which another medical man—one of his own domestics—had told him he must undergo, though this man had not even been allowed to witness the first operation, and had been banished from the house, and with difficulty allowed to come back to his enraged master’s presence,—the patient, I say, broke out to the surgeons, saying, “Are you going to cut me again? Are you, after all, to fulfill the prediction of that man whom you would not allow even to be present?” The surgeons laughed at the unskillful doctor, and soothed their patient’s fears with fair words and promises. So several days passed, and yet nothing they tried did him good. Still they persisted in promising that they would cure that fistula by drugs, without the knife. They called in also another old practitioner of great
repute in that department, Ammonius (for he was still alive at that time); and he, after examining the part, promised the same result as themselves from their care and skill. On this great authority, the patient became confident, and, as if already well, vented his good spirits in facetious remarks at the expense of his domestic physician, who had predicted a second operation. To make a long story short, after a number of days had thus uselessly elapsed, the surgeons, wearied and confused, had at last to confess that he could only be cured by the knife. Agitated with excessive fear, he was terrified, and grew pale with dread; and when he collected himself and was able to speak, he ordered them to go away and never to return. Worn out with weeping, and driven by necessity, it occurred to him to call in an Alexandrian, who was at that time esteemed a wonderfully skillful operator, that he might perform the operation his rage would not suffer them to do. But when he had come, and examined with a professional eye the traces of their careful work, he acted the part of a good man, and persuaded his patient to allow those same hands the satisfaction of finishing his cure which had begun it with a skill that excited his admiration, adding that there was no doubt his only hope of a cure was by an operation, but that it was thoroughly inconsistent with his nature to win the credit of the cure by doing the little that remained to be done, and rob of their reward men whose consummate skill, care, and diligence he could not but admire when he saw the traces of their work. They were therefore again received to favor; and it was agreed that, in the presence of the Alexandrian, they should operate on the fistula, which, by the consent of all, could now only be cured by the knife. The operation was deferred till the following day. But when they had left, there arose in the house such a wailing, in sympathy with the excessive despondency of the master, that it seemed to us like the mourning at a funeral, and we could scarcely repress it. Holy men were in the habit of visiting him daily; Saturninus of blessed memory, at that time bishop of Uzali, and the presbyter Gelosus, and the deacons of the church of Carthage; and among these was the bishop Aurelius, who alone of them all survives,—a man to be named by us with due reverence,—and with him I have often spoken of this affair, as we conversed together about the wonderful works of God, and I have found that he distinctly remembers what I am now relating. When these persons visited him that evening according to their custom, he besought them, with pitiable tears, that they would do him the honor of being present next day at what he judged his funeral rather than his suffering. For such was the terror his former pains had produced, that he made no doubt he would die in the hands of the surgeons. They comforted him, and exhorted him to put his trust in God, and nerve his will like a man. Then we went to prayer; but while we, in the usual way, were kneeling and bending to the ground, he cast himself down, as if some one were hurling him violently to the earth, and began to pray; but in what a manner, with what earnestness and emotion, with what a flood of tears, with what groans and sobs, that shook his whole body, and almost prevented him speaking, who can describe! Whether the others prayed, and had not their attention wholly diverted by this conduct, I do not know. For myself, I could not pray at all. This only I briefly said in my heart: “O Lord, what prayers of Thy people dost Thou hear if Thou hearest not these?” For it seemed to me that nothing could be added to this prayer, unless he expired in praying. We rose from our knees, and, receiving the blessing of the bishop, departed, the patient beseeching his visitors to be present next morning, they exhorting him to keep up his heart. The dreaded day dawned. The servants of God were present, as they had promised to be; the surgeons arrived; all that the circumstances required was ready; the frightful instruments are produced; all look on in wonder and suspense. While those who have most influence with the patient are cheering his fainting spirit, his limbs are arranged on the couch so as to suit the hand of the operator; the knots of the bandages are untied; the part is bared; the surgeon examines it, and, with knife in hand, eagerly looks for the sinus that is to be cut. He searches for it with his eyes; he feels for it with his finger; he applies every kind of scrutiny: he finds a perfectly firm cicatrix! No words of mine can describe the joy, and praise, and thanksgiving to the merciful and almighty God which was poured from the lips of all, with tears of gladness. Let the scene be imagined rather than described!
Whoa, that’s a handful!
I’ll only add that this chapter of the City of God bears the title: “Of Miracles Which Were Wrought that the World Might Believe in Christ, and Which Have Not Ceased Since the World Believed.”
Yes, this dude’s butt is Augustine’s chief example for proving that God’s saving action continues after the Apostolic Age.
Yet, The Temptations to deny the body and wear polyester suits will always remain. And if you remember the Confessions aright, St. Augustine was a bit of a rolling stone himself:
If you want to read more about the shockingly fleshy elements of Christianity you can read these pieces on Mary’s hymen; Christ’s genitalia; and St. Valentine’s bones.
You might also want to explore Pope Francis’ surprising sympathy for the Devil.
Props go out to Sam Rocha and Justin Tse for the original inspiration for this post.