Historian Christopher Dawson writes, in 1959, of the decline of the Roman Empire. Some eerie parallels?
We have already seen how the increasing pressure of taxation and of governmental control crushed the life out of the self-governing municipalities which had been the living cells of the earlier Roman imperial organism. The government did all in its power by forced measures to galvanise the machinery of municipal life into artificial activity and to prevent the middle classes from deserting the city or escaping their obligations by entering the ranks of the senatorial aristocracy or buying a privileged sinecure in the imperial service. But what they tried to build up with one hand, they destroyed with the other, since they rendered the life of the middle class economically impossible.
* * *
The policy of the government, however, defeated its own ends. The pressure of taxation was so great (at times it amounted to as much as 50 per cent. of the produce) that the small landowner was crushed out of existence, and driven to flight or to the slavery of debt.
Christopher Dawson, The Making of Europe (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1945), 80, 82.
Earlier in the same book he writes of the power of martyrdom:
… Christianity won the victory only after a long and bitter struggle. The Church grew under the shadow of the executioner’s rods and axes, and every Christian lived in peril of physical torture and death. The thought of martyrdom coloured the whole outlook of early Christianity. It was not only a fear, it was also an ideal and a hope. For the martyr was the complete Christian. He was the champion and hero of the new society in its conflict with the old, and even the Christians who had failed in the moment of trial-the lapsi-looked on the martyrs as their saviours and protectors.
* * *
In an age when the individual was becoming the passive instrument of an omnipotent and universal state it is difficult to exaggerate the importance of such an ideal, which was the ultimate stronghold of spiritual freedom. More than any other factor it secured the ultimate triumph of the Church, for it rendered plain to all the fact that Christianity was the one remaining power in the world which could not be absorbed in the gigantic mechanism of the new servile state.
Martyrdom was “the ultimate stronghold of spiritual freedom”. The willingness to die is freedom, because if you’re willing to pay the ultimate price then your faith simply cannot be taken away from you. After all, Christ died in order to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:15). If the fear of death makes you a slave, then embracing death sets you free.
It seems that this is the key to whatever apprehensions we may be having about the direction our country is going. It appears pressure will be put on the Church to cave on the issue of contraception coverage. We don’t know what challenges the Church might face if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land. Believing Catholics (and others) are already being labeled bigots of the same stripe as those who hate people for the color of their skin — for doing nothing more than believing the tenets of the Faith; or in other words for being unwilling to abandon them.
However if we are willing to die for the Faith, how can they intimidate us with name-calling? Whereas if we fear death, we can be pressured to conform.
Don’t mark me down as paranoid. I don’t mean that violent persecution is at hand, or even that it’s inevitable. I just mean that ultimately, the willingness to die for the faith is what will preserve the faith, and preserve us in the faith.