Briefly Reviewed: January-February 2023
Virgil Gheorghiu on Communism, Capitalism and National Socialism
By Iuliu-Marius Morariu
Publisher: Peter Lang
Review Author: Inez Fitzgerald Storck
Virgil Gheorghiu (1916-1992) was a notable 20th-century writer, but he is relatively unknown in the West. A poet, journalist, diplomat, and Romanian Orthodox priest, he wrote over 40 volumes, including poetry, World War II reportage, fiction, and biographies. His novel The 25th Hour, an international bestseller, was made into a movie starring Anthony Quinn in 1967. Like most of his books, its themes encompass the suffering of the Romanian people under Nazism and communism, and the different form of dehumanization of man under capitalism.
Due to his marriage to a woman of Jewish descent, the fascist regime in Romania deprived Gheorghiu, then working as a reporter, of his press credentials. Through a personal connection he was sent to Zagreb, capital of Croatia, as cultural attaché. When the Soviets occupied Romania in 1944, the Gheorghius did not return to their country but escaped to the West. Since Gheorghiu had been in the service of a fascist government, he and his wife were automatically detained in a series of Allied prison camps in Germany for over a year and a half without any charges brought against them. They illegally entered France after their release and settled in Paris.
Gheorghiu wrote his works in Romanian until his ordination to the priesthood in Paris in 1963. He believed that, along with the charism of the priesthood, the Holy Spirit gave him the gift of writing in French, the language of his later works.
Despite the literary and spiritual value of his works, very little in English has been written on Gheorghiu. Iuliu-Marius Morariu has done a great service by bringing to light the thought of this writer on the three principal ideologies of the 20th century. As a Romanian Orthodox priest, monk, and academic, Morariu brings theological and sociological knowledge to his analysis of Gheorghiu’s work, to which he has dedicated years of study, including research into the files of the Romanian secret police. Gheorghiu was under close scrutiny due to his criticism of the communist regime, though he lived abroad.
In Virgil Gheorghiu on Communism, Capitalism and National Socialism, Morariu, after presenting a summary of his subject’s life and works, examines Gheorghiu’s evolving beliefs about the three ideologies. Gheorghiu’s attitude toward Nazi Germany, initially an ally of Romania in her struggle against communism, was not unfavorable at first. In his war reporting on the assault of the Russians in Bessarabia, then part of Romania and ultimately taken over by the Soviets (and now the Republic of Moldova), Gheorghiu commented on the courtesy of German soldiers there, who assisted him in traveling through Bessarabia. Even though he later criticized the fascist regime in Romania, his reporting was seen as sympathy toward the Nazis — and it won him censure to the point of ostracism in France. Philosopher Gabriel Marcel withdrew his preface to The 25th Hour in the wake of Gheorghiu’s refusal to speak out in his own defense. It must be remembered that at that time in France, many intellectuals had embraced communism (though Marcel had not). As a result, Gheorghiu’s later work was somewhat marginalized.
Gheorghiu was ahead of his time in denouncing the evils of the Soviet system when in 1942 he reported on the deportation of dissidents, real or suspected, to Siberia. This was such common knowledge in Bessarabia that families had packed suitcases and prepared boxes of bread, dry to prevent spoilage, in case the dreaded nocturnal visit of the police required them to get ready for deportation in 15 minutes. Morariu provides details of Gheorghiu’s documentation of the devastation wreaked by the Russians in their takeover of Bessarabia and other parts of Romania. Gheorghiu perceived that the Soviets were in the process of creating robot men, the individual being subsumed into the system. He never forgave America and the other Allies for handing over Eastern Europe to the USSR at Yalta.
The more he became familiar with the materialism of the West and the dehumanizing aspects of capitalism, the more Gheorghiu saw Western man as a different type of robot at the service of another type of oppressive system. Perhaps his most trenchant critique of the United States comes in his novel L’Œil américain (1972), which has yet to be translated into English. In this futuristic, dystopian portrait, omnipresent American satellites spew messages to the whole world, drawing all to be swallowed by the “Factory Society.” Morariu points out that this use of satellites for the purposes of propaganda is a reference to the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe.
Gheorghiu sees the devalorization of the human being — not as obvious in the capitalist West as in Nazi and Soviet Europe — as the source of all ethical problems. Among these in the United States is the sensate, sexualized culture focused on the material to the exclusion of the spiritual. This way of life is relentlessly exported to the whole world in a kind of cultural colonization.
Morariu deftly weaves together elements from Gheorghiu’s life and references to his works in this analysis. Given that this is the primary resource on Gheorghiu in English, the book’s lack of thorough copyediting is to be regretted. But this will be overlooked by readers interested in learning more about such a significant figure of the past century.
The Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism: Rethinking the Papacy in a Time of Ecclesial Disintegration: Volume 1 (Theological Reflections on the Rock of the Church)
By Peter A. Kwasniewski
Publisher: Arouca Press
Review Author: Richard M. Dell’Orfano
Also reviewed: Volume 2 (Chronological Responses to an Unfolding Pontificate). By Peter A. Kwasniewski. Arouca Press. 336 pages. $21.95.
Peter Kwasniewski wrote his two-volume work The Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism with the average reader’s theological limitations in mind. The first volume lays out the proper role of the papacy in the Mystical Body of Christ on earth and how we Catholics need to adjust our current understanding of it.
The traditional role of the papacy was always to protect and perpetuate Church doctrine, but papal actions over the past 150 years have distorted this. Originally, Vicar of Christ meant Representative of Christ. But in modern times, the humble aspect of being a mere representative has given way to idolization of the pope as Christ-in-Person. This is what’s known as hyperpapalism. Dazzled and confused Catholics then indirectly permit the idolized pontiff to alter time-honored disciplines and sacred doctrine.
By what criteria should we judge the worthiness of the current papacy? “If a pope’s failure to submit himself to Sacred Tradition and to defend it strenuously is notorious enough,” Kwasniewski boldly explains, “it merits condemnation and resistance.” The disconcerted reader is soon comforted to learn that “it’s not for nothing that Dante puts popes and bishops in his Inferno.” And no one has ever blamed him for doing so!
Of the 265 popes before Pope Francis, 11 were guilty of grave personal immorality. Alexander VI (1492-1503), for example, “was admired by Machiavelli for his bloody ruthlessness.” Urban VIII (1623-1644) “engaged in abundant nepotism and supported the castration of boys so they could sing in his papal choir as castrati.” Another eight popes taught something arguably heretical in word or deed. Some were guilty of error by omission, such as St. Peter, who three times denied that he knew Christ. Paschal II (1099-1118) ceded to Emperor Henry V the privilege of episcopal investiture. St. John Paul II (1978-2005) bent over to kiss the Koran.
For the most part, the popes of the past two millennia have an excellent track record, with dozens of saints in their ranks. It is rare when scandalous error reaches the level of heresy, so rare that perhaps the faithful are caught flatfooted when it happens, unsure how to respond. Kwasniewski makes it clear that Catholics who protest a pope’s novelties are not obligated to obey him blindly. Dozens of times in Church history, reproval of a pope has been called for, and resistance has been exercised.
Kwasniewski’s second volume focuses on the unfolding pontificate of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first Jesuit pope (who, in accepting the papal throne, ignored his Jesuit vow to shun high office). The author marks Francis’s modernist push as serious error equivalent to heresy, and he offers dozens of examples, such as the Vatican’s deal with China that effectively allows the communist government to appoint bishops; Francis’s allowance of Holy Communion for the divorced and “remarried,” and for pro-abortion politicians; his alteration of the Catechism to make criminal executions “inadmissible”; his heretical blessing of the South American idol Pachamama; and his heavy-handed restrictions on celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass. The current pontificate has forced upon us laity a fundamental reassessment of the purpose and limits of the papal office.
The reader can readily compare these errors to those of previous popes. Francis has “the view that it’s the Church’s business to adapt Herself — her worship, her doctrine, her discipline — to ‘modern man,’” Kwasniewski writes. Francis certainly appears ready to accommodate every component of social crisis, especially regarding marriage and sexuality, produced over the past 50 years. A modernist strategy here is that “the Church’s traditional teachings are too difficult for some people in some circumstances to follow (situation ethics). They simply cannot do it: it is morally impossible and therefore not required of them,” Kwasniewski writes. And this from “a pope who told youths at a Mass in 2015 to ‘make a mess.’” He is certainly teaching by example.
Kwasniewski is not given to mincing words. On lowered standards of discipline and virtue, he says man’s heart has not changed over time, but “our world has become ferociously promiscuous” and addicted to “iniquities that weaken the will and blind the reason.” He continues, “All of these effects were known to the Desert Fathers of ancient Christianity, who predicted all the consequences of self-indulgence. Far from needing to be up-to-date, we would be far wiser to look back and recover their wisdom.” And, Kwasniewski concludes, “Never have we had a pope who is so wrong about so many things…. May God have mercy on his soul before he departs this life.”
Many Catholics, myself included, initially gave Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps, we thought, he is doing what he believes best for the Church to survive the 21st century. Kwasniewski’s second volume, however, provides abundant documentation showing the corrosive effect this Pope and his modernist allies have had on the Church.
Awake, Not Woke: A Christian Response to the Cult of Progressive Ideology
By Noelle Mering
Publisher: TAN Books
Review Author: Cornelius Michael Buckley, S.J.
Noelle Mering’s Awake, Not Woke presents a thorough and easy-to-read analysis of the “woke” cult of progressive ideology that has gained ascendancy in our country. She sets the stage with a reflection on the Fall as presented in Genesis as well as citations from a number of august thinkers, including St. Augustine, Pope Benedict XVI, and St. Ignatius. A final quote from Bob Dylan, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody,” is developed and tied up in Mering’s conclusion.
The book is divided into two broad sections: the philosophical and historical origins of woke culture, plus its dogmas and methods of indoctrination, followed by remedies to meet, identify, and defeat it. Mering makes an early distinction between the devotees of wokeness — the knowledgeable, militant, true ideologues — and the well-intended masses who seek justice and equity for all, especially the downtrodden, but who are not aware of the essence, depth, and objectives of the movement. She deliberately avoids a deep, scholarly analysis of what makes up “wokeness,” but her references to the intermingled philosophies of G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Sigmund Freud, Vladimir Lenin, John Dewey, and others enable the serious reader to research source amplifications of her judgments. She also identifies how and when this potpourri of ideas arrived in the United States from Europe.
Mering explains the Hegelian dialectic (a process of societal development toward an ideal state), what Marx meant by religion as “the opiate of the masses,” and why familiarity with these fundamentals is important for understanding woke philosophy. All this is background to the Frankfurt School and its hallmark: critical theory. Not even many well-read Americans today are aware of the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School and the success of its objective to orchestrate a social transformation in this country, particularly through the universities and the media. Critical theorist Herbert Marcuse, a French Marxist, inspired American radicals of the 1960s and 1970s with a brand of tolerance that is intolerant of anything deemed repressive. Marcuse latched onto the Black Power movement, resulting in the radicalization of exploited people of color and a widening of the concept of racism.
Three principles would become central to woke dogma: (1) primacy of the group over the person; (2) emphasis on will at the expense of reason or nature; and (3) elevation of human power in rejection of natural and divine rights. Meanwhile, the sexual revolution, a primary tenet of the Frankfurt School, was wreaking havoc on the structure of the family. Mering’s succinct prose and cogent examples enable the reader to interpret much of what appears in today’s media. Woke dogma says skin color and sexuality, not an individual’s virtues, must come first. Forget character, intelligence, or aptitude. And don’t even think of objecting to woke dogma with religious beliefs!
Mering analyzes the principle of will over reason, the choice of what one desires for oneself over good or evil as defined by any outside source (other than the dogma mentioned above). People who shove aside any inconvenient teaching or law to attain “liberation” will find Christian belief stupid — although for the present time, it can be tolerated as nostrums of niceties for political leaders.
It is popularly believed that civil rights and LGBT rights are designed to achieve a social purpose: freedom from fear, bigotry, and hate. This explains the mass acceptance of queer culture. Mering traces the origins of “gay liberation” to the writings of Freud and Marcuse, who both taught that the natural law is an obstacle to true freedom because it prevents a person from following the dictates of his passions. But history testifies that “freedom” empty of morality and the dictates of the moral law ends in violence and despair. Mering recounts what happened in China when Mao Tse-tung exerted power over political, familial, and religious authority because he judged them to be obstacles to the welfare and equality of all. Today’s woke revolutionaries embrace thought and speech control, accept critical Marxism, and actively seek to destroy history. All this goes by the name of “repressive tolerance” and constitutes a power play that Chairman Mao would applaud.
At the end of her presentation — all along given with an occasional funny quip — Mering reflects on the restoration of the person, the family, and the City of God. She begins by declaring that, in contrast to the woke definition, every person is loved by God, created in His image, and, for this reason, has obligations to Him and to his fellow man. (This description complements the thinking of the U.S. founding fathers, as expressed in their writings and in the Constitution.) Moreover, the body with which one is born is an integral part of one’s being. For all of us, self-knowledge is essential, and we must avoid the temptation to scapegoat or blame others for our failures. Mering emphasizes that we Catholics must recognize and confess our sins, since we are loved and made for redemption. Knowing ourselves enables us to see others with generosity.
The nuclear family is the fundamental community from which all groups take their meaning. This definition is radically different from the Marxist view that sees the family as an oppressive patriarchal system in which power, guilt, and oppression are generated. Abortion is most effective in realizing woke goals because it destroys the family as defined by the natural law and raised to a higher level by the teachings of the Catholic Church. In a woke culture of death, each person is an island, devoid of justice, hardened to love. Nothing mocks more Christ’s giving His Body and Blood for those whom He came to unite with His Body, the Church.
Finally, Mering — a Catholic wife and mother of six young children — reflects on the Church, which she memorably defines as “a battleground for all people at all stages of the spiritual life, from St. Francis to Oscar Wilde, Chris Farley to Andy Warhol. All creatures, saints and sinners, struggling, resisting, revolting and returning over and over until their last breath.”
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