Arthur Middleton on Neville Figgis and the spirit of Antichrist
Fr Neville Figgis, of the Community of the Resurrection and an Honorary Fellow of St Catherine’s College Cambridge, was a prominent preacher in Edwardian England. His sermon Antichrist is prophetic for today’s Western culture. His starting point is Rev. 12.7: ‘There was war in Heaven. Michael and his Angels fought against the Dragon, and the Dragon fought and his Angels, and prevailed not.’ War, he claims, is the enduring condition of the militant Church on this earth. It implies an enemy, two mutually opposing spirits.
`The thought which flames through the Book of the Revelation is that of a great warfare – a warfare between two kingdoms: that is, two organised bodies of spiritual being, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Heavenly City, the Bride of the Lamb which is from above, the Mother of us all, the Kingdom of Christ, and the Kingdom which is spiritually called Egypt or Sodom, the Kingdom of darkness or Antichrist, the home of all the spirits that hate His Name. In brief, Christ and all that He includes are encompassed by real foes.
This theme is to be found all through the New Testament. In Romans 1, St Paul draws a lurid picture of where the spirit of this world ends, and yet more boldly, he describes in Galatians the issues of these two irreconcilable oppugnant spirits in terms of the works of flesh and the fruits of the Spirit.
The fight is not over. `We are witnessing and feeling an assault made before our eyes upon every single ideal of thought and feeling and action which we can call specifically Christian; that that assault is being directed by men of known power; that in many ways it has with it the current of feeling and the people’s applause. I mean that all the things which the spirit of Christ bids us do or avoid doing are being openly reversed.
Marriage treats human life as something holy because it is sacramental. No part of Christian living could seem more vital than that which treats human life as something holy, which regards marriage as sacred because it is sacramental. In Figgis’s day it began to be undermined with pleas to make divorce as easy and as secretive as possible and the flouting of any view of the union but that which is purely physiological. Today we have same-sex unions misnamed as gay marriage and it will not stop there.
`Now this is the direct contrary of our Christian notion, which is that the inner meaning of marriage is sacramental, and that therefore the outward part needs guarding; … Such a view could only come naturally to an age which had passed from a denial of the whole sacramental principle to a questioning of the Incarnation and then to repudiate the spiritual meaning of physical facts. For if matter be something non-spiritual, and outside God’s Kingdom, then the marriage-bond may very easily be treated like a contract, made or broken at will. If it has no meaning beyond certain outward acts, then of course the moral or spiritual law has nothing to do with it’
‘Along with the love of God’ he writes, ‘there is slowly but surely being undermined all real sense of the love of man. Thus it is true to say that in all directions the ideals of life that we call Christian are being met with derisive denial; that this denial does not stop at details, but goes right down to the principles of the whole life. This denial has its roots in a spirit yet more antagonistic to Christian living, for it rests upon a disbelief in the reality, first, of sin, and, secondly, of the other world’
Figgis goes on to say that there is a spirit abroad which is actively and consciously opposed to that of Christ: `Its meaning and its essence are anti-Christian. And it is in a world such as this that the Church has to fight for her distinct existence… our first and clearest duty is to preserve the distinctness which makes Christianity what it is and not something else, and also to beware of supposing that a few concessions here and there will really conciliate our foes; for these foes are bent upon our annihilation and will be satisfied with nothing less. Like Chamberlain before Hitler appeasement is no solution. The world at large does not love Christ and it is at last able to say so’