2 Timothy 3:1-13
But know this,
that in the last days perilous times will come:
For men will be lovers of themselves,
lovers of money, boasters, proud,
blasphemers, disobedient to parents,
unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving,
slanderers, without self-control, brutal,
despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty,
lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
having a form of godliness but denying its power….
Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses,
so do these also resist the truth:
men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith;
but they will progress no further,
for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.
But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life,
purpose, faith, longsuffering,
love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions,
which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra –
what persecutions I endured.
And out of them all the Lord delivered me.
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus
will suffer persecution.
But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse,
deceiving and being deceived.
How these words of St. Paul, written some 2,000 years ago, resonate in our times of ever-worsening corruption and depravity.
Six years ago, would we ever have imagined that we would live in a time when innocent human beings are not just slaughtered, but their body parts sold for profit. Would we ever have imagined that politicians (Obama, Hillary Clinton) would defend the sale as “ethical”? Would we….
The list is endless.
St. Paul’s words, no doubt, had inspired J. R. R. Tolkien’s mournful expression, “the long defeat”.
Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring, speaking as Elven queen Galadriel, referring to her husband Celeborn:
“He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted . . . and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.”
In a letter, Tolkien explained:
Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory. (Letters 255).
Tolkien’s “long defeat” should be understood as a doleful commentary on humanity as a collective, and “defeat” in the sense of countless men and women being obdurately evil, and so are lost to Christ’s salvific self-sacrifice on the cross.
The long defeat.
What an apt characterization of the times we live in and our seemingly fruitless struggle against the ever-rising darkness of the human soul.
Fr. Stephen Freeman, priest of the Orthdox Church in America and rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, observes:
History as a long defeat – I can think of nothing that is more anti-modern than this sentiment expressed by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a thought perfectly in line with the fathers and the whole of Classical Christian teaching. And it’s anti-modernism reveals much about the dominant heresy of our time.
We believe in progress – it is written into the DNA of the modern world. If things are bad, they’ll get better. . . . But Tolkien’s sentiment bears deeper examination. For not only does it reject the notion of progress, it embraces a narrative of the “long defeat.” . . . If history tells us anything, it is that this is a very honest, even prescient reading.
But Fr. Freeman reminds us:
But the Classical Christian read on human life contains the deepest hope – set precisely in the heart of the long defeat. . . . Tolkien notes that within the long defeat, there are “glimpses of final victory.” I would go further and say that the final victory already “tabernacles” among us. It hovers within and over our world, shaping it and forming it, even within its defeat . . . an End that was always foreseen and present within the Cross itself. And the Cross itself was present “from before the foundation of the world.”
May the courage of St. Paul, and the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you!