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Black Legends and the Light of the World

(New Blockbuster History Book )

Remnant Press Release POSTED: 2/29/12
Special Pre-Order Offer  

Dr. John Rao, (D. Phil, Oxford) Interviewed by Michael J. Matt


1)   Michael Matt (MJM): So, Dr. Rao, it’s been a while since Remnant readers have had the pleasure of reading your by-line. What have you been up to?

John Rao (JR):
Doing something that the late, great Michael Davies urged me to do a few years after beginning our Summer Symposia in northern Italy, in 1992: namely, discussing the crucial theme uniting the study of the whole of Church History that we were undertaking as a living, breathing, international Catholic community on Lake Garda in one fat book. On the negative side, writing that book took my attention away from The Remnant. On the positive side, it also diverted my mind from a sad development in my daily university life: student flight from the traditional classroom experience to online courses—online courses unlike those that my home schooling children take, with no lecturing whatsoever; just “group work”.


2)   MJM: Before you tell us more about that book, explain what you mean by college students no longer wishing to attend class in the conventional classroom setting.  Sounds a bit Orwellian.

JR: It caught me totally by surprise. All of a sudden, numbers in the classroom dropped from around 25 to 6. My best students still prefer the classroom. I’m not sure exactly what the motivation of the others is, since they normally don’t show up for class anyway. I have the distinct impression that the university authorities have pushed this online business onto them because it is the latest pedagogical fad. The training course—which I had to take—was not concerned with technical instruction, which I could have used, but promotion of “group learning” through vast internet sources as the key to overcoming the wholesale indifference to knowledge that characterizes our culture. My colleagues who already teach online tell me that—surprise, surprise—the online students are just as uninterested in learning as they are in the classroom. Educational decline is a spiritual problem, not a technical issue.


3)   MJM: Is there anything in history that is reminiscent of this bizarre trend in education today?

JR: There are certainly periods in history—like the 1700’s and early 1800’s—when education became a big, aristocratic joke, requiring major reforms to set things straight again. Tom Brown’s Schooldays is not a caricature. On the other hand, this technocratic, pedagogical ideology is yet another by-product of the naturalism of the Enlightenment, exacerbated by the transformation of universities into degree factories since the end of the Second World War. 

4)   MJM: Okay, now, about the book. I think you referred to it recently as your “magnum opus”.  That’s quite a statement, given your vast body of work.  Why is this book THE book of your life?  

JR: Because it does summarize everything that I have been working on, not only since the beginning of the Roman Forum’s Gardone program but also since the time of my doctoral dissertation. It’s really only such broad topics that I am interested in pursuing in writing. I am very, very grateful to people who are willing to spend years of their lives studying a highly specific subject, but I myself could never wrap myself around something like the Sepoy Mutiny for a decade or so.


5)   MJM:  And the title?

JR: Let me tackle the subtitle first—The War of Words with the Incarnate Word. My basic argument is that the whole of secular intellectual history and Church History can be understood as a war. On the one side stand those who grasp the fact that there is more to life than meets the eye—men who see that there is a deeper meaning behind things, and that this “Word” (that the Socratics explored philosophically and the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus Christ completed through Revelation) requires the correction and transformation of nature. On the other side stand men who are horrified at the thought of standing back and judging the world around them rather than simply “going with the flow” of “business as usual”. Stung by the strength of the supporters of a deeper vision of life, this latter group uses “words”—rhetoric and all forms of communication—to divert men away from the Christian and Socratic vision. These words they shape into “Black Legends” regarding the evil effects of taking the Christian-Socratic path, or “Nice Stories” that suck it of any correcting and transforming significance. Everything is designed to keep the Status Quo of fallen nature from coming into question.


6)   MJM: Black Legends, then, is the title of your book—Black Legends and the Light of the World.  Can you give us some examples of those legends?

JR: Their name is Legion, and they often contradict one another. The sole guideline for the “word merchants” opposed to Christianity is “whatever works” to discredit their enemy. Christianity—and by Christianity I, of course, mean Catholic Christianity—has been accused of being an enemy of both God and man! How is it an enemy of God? You name it! It does not recognize that God can only be found in the passions and dictates of Nature; that the State is the voice of God, through the Sacred Emperor, King, or Constitution; that the Bible and a hidden, poor “church” is the only representative of Christ. It is the enemy of man because it has destroyed political order, the family, the economy, the nation, science, art, freedom, creativity. Absolutely anything that someone at some time, whoever he might be, appreciates. An interesting French book called The Jesuit Myth catalogues the incredible number of lies this involves for the nineteenth century alone.

Interview continues below...


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Plus, a letter from John Rao and a first look at the Table of Contents


   MJM: So, is it a year-by-year, sort of chronological history text filled with dates and names? 

JR: No, that’s precisely what I wanted to avoid. This book is both a history and a manifesto. It discusses the periods in Church History as representative of a seamless, unchanging problem. My purpose is to demonstrate that the dilemmas we face today are in many respects the same that Plato faced in dealing with the “word merchants” of the pre-Christian world, although, with the Incarnation, the stakes and the demands placed upon those who know better are much higher. Many, many footnotes and a bibliography, along with a comprehensive index, give guidance to those who want to follow up my book with more specific reading.


8)   MJM: Give us an example of the general way in which you might cover a given epoch in history, say the Enlightenment or the Protestant Revolt, for examples.

JR: What I do is to relate the successes and the failures of the Church and Catholics in history to whether or not they are really following the message of the Word—both in Reason and in Faith, or contenting themselves with “word games” that play into the hands of what I call the Grand Coalition of the Status Quo; namely, the people who don’t want to rock the boat of fallen nature. My discussion of the Protestant Revolt demonstrates both how such “game playing” helps to explain Luther’s abandonment of the entire effort to correct and transform a “hopelessly sinful natural world” and the Church’s sluggishness in responding to his tragic vision. My discussion of the Enlightenment emphasizes the same kind of problem: the abandonment of nature to wallow in its own fallen state as promoted by the Enlightenment was aided by a painful Catholic failure to treat the message of the Incarnate Word seriously and to mask this failure by “baptizing” fatuous, emasculating interpretations of Christianity turning it into a Front for its own enemies. Catholics don’t know this side of their history to a large degree because learning about it is disruptive to the current status quo.


9)   MJM: I notice in my review copy that you have a section or two on the Ninth Crusade. Obviously, this isn’t a reference to the Crusades called to take back the Holy Land. So what do you mean by the Ninth Crusade and how does it fit into the context of your Black Legends?

JR: Precisely with reference to the problem of the Enlightenment mentioned above. Traditionally, historians speak of eight Great Crusades. I am calling the rediscovery of the full Catholic message in the nineteenth century the Ninth Crusade. What happened after the French Revolution was that many Catholic scholars and activists of many countries realized that they had swallowed a lot of Enlightenment “Black Legend” criticisms of their Faith in the 1700’s and had themselves stripped their armories of their best weapons to answer them. Again, most Catholics don’t know that political protections, devotional life, and education—St. Thomas Aquinas was generally treated like an embarrassing relic of a Dark Age—were undermined by popes and bishops themselves in the course of the eighteenth century. What the Ninth Crusaders rediscovered was nothing short of the whole life of the Mystical Body of Christ and its need to make Christ the King of the Universe for the sake of its correction and transformation. If they did not, fallen man would be king of a fallen universe, guaranteeing the triumph of his own perverse will. This movement then took over the guidance of the Church through the work of Blessed Pius IX….until, alas, recently, when the “word merchants” regained their dominating influence.


10) MJM: You note that the central theme of your book is twofold: to take the complete message of the Word Incarnate in history seriously and to take that message as something of supreme benefit for natural as well as for supernatural life.  This seems to suggest a sort of pre-Enlightenment vision of history, in that history as a science cannot and must not be divorced from Christ, His Church, His salvific mission. Is this, in fact, what you’re saying?

JR: What I am saying is what everyone from Christ through St. Justin Martyr to St. Pius X has said. The only way that nature can be understood is by understanding the plan and teaching of the God who created nature. Since that God is a supernatural being, this means through heeding a Faith that nevertheless tells us that Reason and all of nature have their purpose in His plan. Anyone heeding God’s teaching heeds something that brings life more abundantly; that harmonizes all of the different aspects of nature in their proper place in the hierarchy of values. Men desperately require supernatural assistance to be saved, but this supernatural assistance has to be applied in the natural environment in which they live. Both the natural and the supernatural count! The Enlightenment does not want to hear anything about “correcting” and “transforming” nature. It is totally on its own. Even if, at best, some Enlightenment supporters “believe” in God, it is a schizophrenic belief, because nothing in God’s nature has anything to do with the purpose of which it was created! The State, the economy, and culture in general can only gain from union with supernatural teaching and grace.


11)MJM: Would you say there’s some sort of dogmatic link, if you will, between history and theology?

JR: Theology and philosophy are separate from history. History is crucial for understanding whether the message of theology and philosophy is being taken seriously. What I am concerned about in this book is showing that the Grand Coalition of the Status Quo uses Black Legends and “Nice Stories” to prevent examination of what theology and philosophy teach as though it is a dangerous waste of time. Hence, people think they know what Christianity teaches but are generally misled. Worse still, many Catholics—including leaders of the Church—have often, in practice, accepted this pack of lies and tried to prevent their Faith from rocking the boat of fallen nature. They have often solemnly repeated the correct formulas of theology and Faith while violating them on a day-to-day basis. History cannot make theology. It is the contradiction between ideas and practice that history has the mission of revealing, so that believers know they are getting the real wallop of the Faith from their leaders and their society and not merely slogans. Like I note in the book, at my college graduation, students were obliged to sing hymns about the crushing of heresy. The words of the hymns were fine. None of the students believed what they were singing, however, and their environment encouraged them in their apostasy. Guess which actually guided their lives? The song or the environment? History, among other things, is meant to uncover frauds.


12)MJM: So you set out to prove in Black Legends that Christ—the Incarnate Word—is literally, not figuratively, the Lord of History and it is He against which the World has been warring since the dawn of time?

JR: The fallen world. But that fallen world contains Seeds of the Word (St. Justin Martyr) that have experienced the same hostility from the proponents of “business as usual” as the Christian message.


13)MJM:  I’m assuming that your book may well be regarded as foundational groundwork for historical studies among Catholics, but what about non-Catholics?  Is this the sort of book we might be able to hand to a genuinely thoughtful Protestant friend?

JR: I hope so, especially since one of the main points of the book is that many people use words—like Catholic—to hide practical lives that are hostile to what they proclaim. If anything, it is the failures of Catholics that I am exploring through the ages. In any case, Protestants and Protestantism, certainly today, are two different things, and I make this quite clear.


14)MJM: But still, Black Legends is not a textbook.  First and foremost it is intended for students of history of all ages, but especially for tradition-minded Catholics that hunger for more a Catholic worldview from which to understand what is happening in the world today?

JR: Yes. Although textbooks are necessary, they are purely reference notes. I would call my work a popularized philosophy of history—and a political, social, and cultural manifesto.


15)MJM: I see that there are a number of renowned academics both here in the States and in Europe who have already endorsed Black Legends.   Can you name a few and tell us what it says about the book’s uniqueness that it should have already garnered favorable reviews from such men? 

JR: I have been very pleased to receive highly favorable comments from Dr. Friedrich Römig from Vienna, Dr. Miguel Ayuso, from Madrid, and Dr. Patrick Brennan from Villanova University among many others. All of these men have been working in their own fields with the same basic ideas in their mind. The irony behind its “unique” character was well expressed by Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand. Christ is everything. Believing Catholics hear that, say “of course”, and then move on to live lives of “business as usual” without digesting what this really means. But it means that everything in a natural world that God created and loves has been given its transforming marching orders—and even the American Government and Wall Street have to listen.


16)MJM: They say either rage or love is the prime motivation behind the authorship of every great book.  What, then, are you mad at? Or, with what/whom are you in love?  

JR: I fully agree with you, but, given personal differences, rage and love can play diverse roles. Personally, rage stirs me up, but the power of those forces against which I want to vent my spleen is so great that anger alone sometimes reduces me to despair. For me, it is the love that counts. I love food, wine, music, art, learning, and a natural world that I hate to see manipulated and destroyed. It is all so beautiful. Dietrich von Hildebrand, Dr. William Marra, and two books—Emile Mersch’s The Whole Christ and Werner Jaeger’s Paideia—awakened me to what is behind all of this beauty: the Triune God. This book—along with my work on behalf of the Traditional Mass—is my personal act of worship of the Triune God, and I hope that it will cover a multitude of personal sins.


17) MJM: Still, aren’t you something of an extreme optimist, given the way things are today and the sheer size of the boulder you’re trying to push up the hill?

JR:  Michael, you, of all people, asking me such a question! My own tendency is more towards pessimism—which, luckily, a plate of pasta and a glass of Chianti calm considerably. But despite my pessimism I am aware of one thing that repeatedly happens historically: When big crises emerge, forces that seem impotent to the “practical” men of “business as usual” show their real fangs. And a big crisis is upon us. I am happy to be on record, with this book, as to where I stand, before “things fall apart” and “the center does not hold”. And fairness requires that I thank both you and Chris Ferrara for pushing me along when I have been “down”.


18)MJM: Okay, John, you’re an Oxford-educated historian; as such, I can’t let you go without asking you for some predictions, based on history if you like, regarding the future. What do you see happening next?    Where do we really stand on the timeline of history?

Following up on what I said before, both my Faith and my Reason indicate that we not only are at a huge turning point, but actually in the midst of it. As many historians have indicated, the period since the First World War has been the crisis of the Enlightenment and not of Christianity. That Enlightenment was represented by mid-century by the Soviet Communist Bloc and the American Pluralist Bloc. The one is in shambles and the other falls apart more each day. In short, we live in “interesting times”.


19)MJM: Could this be the so-called “end of history”?


JR: That, I hesitate to say. Thankfully, that is up to God and not to me. Part of me longs to see “the end”, but Scripture says not to wish for the Day of the Lord, and my apocalyptic tendencies are, in reality, more intellectual than substantive. Watching the apocalypse on screen with popcorn in my hands sounds like fun; living it would not be. We may simply be at the beginning of a new era in this mysterious plan of Almighty God. Despite everything, the twentieth century produced a lot of sound Catholic saints and writers who have contributed to a deepening of our understanding of the Faith and dangers to which it is subject. Maybe we need more time to complete this labor.


20)MJM: In a nutshell: Why should readers purchase a copy of Black Legends?  And I don’t mean to put you on the spot by asking you sing your own praises.  Rather, in your honest opinion, as author of an important new book, what is the main advantage going to be for a person to have your book on his shelf?

JR: To teach him to stop “smiling as he dies”. This book concerns two things: It is about following Christ and therefore “living life more abundantly”, here on earth and in eternity; but it is also about uncovering and rejecting the many forces that claim to be friends of God, Man, Reason, and Freedom that enslave and destroy us, and have an intimate kinship among themselves from the time of the Greeks to modern-day America. These all want us to do their bidding and to sing the praises of their destruction of our bodies and our souls. Long live Christ the King!

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