The Hezekiah Blunder

In a revered place in the tombs of the sons of David, amidst the honor of the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, Hezekiah was laid to rest and honored by all at his death, the end of a twenty nine year reign that was the most righteous of any king of Judah between David and Josiah.

Some years before, this same Hezekiah had welcomed Babylonians with open arms into his house and among his riches and his wealth. He had shown them everything he possessed and valued in this world, and that apparently was displayed in strictly material terms.

Hezekiah, obviously touched by the surprising act of goodwill and compassion on the part of the Babylonians who had sent condolences regarding his illness (of which he recovered by divine miracle), invites them to see the glory of his realm and the riches bestowed by his heritage through the blessings of God. He showed them the grandeur of the Royal Palace Solomon constructed hundreds of years before, the spices and oil and treasures he had only because the Assyrian invaders had been warded off by divine intervention and he lived to enjoy only because God had given him fifteen extra years of life at his pleading.

All of this would eventually be for naught, and would be corrupted and destroyed. God  tests individuals by allowing them to be tempted with the approval or blessing of those with whom they should have no association, and all gifts come at a cost. Abraham understood this, and took no gifts from the King of Sodom:

[Gen 14:22-23 ESV] 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’

Hezekiah’s motivations are not explicit in the biblical text. God’s, however, are much clearer:

[2Ch 32:31 ESV] 31 And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.

***

Vatican II

In January 1959, very early in his short papacy, Pope John XXIII officially and surprisingly expressed his intention for what was supposed to have been a “pastoral” council to modernize the church and send a positive message to the world. This was a strange move on its face, given that other councils were for the purpose of condemning heresies or bolstering and clarifying definitions and theological stances – that is, they were dogmatic councils, done with the voice of a prophet or an authoritative teacher.

This new council’s goal was somewhat opaque:

“Nor are we here primarily to discuss certain fundamentals of Catholic doctrine, or to restate in greater detail the traditional teaching of the Fathers and of early and more recent theologians. We presume that these things are sufficiently well known and familiar to you all… There was no need to call a council merely to hold discussions of that nature. What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council.”

The results were equally as opaque. The cause of and ultimate product of the council was a groundswell of irrational exuberance about modernity and an attempt to get in front of the parade, and created an environment thereafter in which questionable or fully heretical interpretations were, if not encouraged, tolerated and permitted as they became normal practice. It created just enough confusion for modernists to work. These wished to avoid or work around troublesome, well-established traditional doctrines to their suitors and influencers in the powerful international elite who considered themselves enlightened rationalists or simply humanists. This confusion was the perfect cover for charismatic and powerful individuals within the Catholic Church to press for wholesale and sweeping changes to every aspect of Catholicity on the basis of the ever expanding skeleton key of discourse that was “the Spirit of Vatican II.”

One particular odd component of this council was John XXIII’s insistence on having “observers” present who were specifically non-Catholic. One must ask, even if the reader is not a Catholic, how a non-Catholic is invested or capable of giving meaningful input on inside baseball issues for the Catholic Church? If they were not contributors, why have them observe? Certainly it seems a harmless way to build interfaith dialogue, but on the other hand a distinctly familial event isn’t an appropriate place to build geopolitical connections. Further, the level of detail and the caliber of scholars typically involved in these types of councils is no joke. Perhaps the reasoning was that they would provide interesting perspective; however, it would be strange for an Astronomy conference to invite Veterinarians or, perhaps more aptly, Astrologers to somehow provide perspective to the discussions. Many Popes have been lured by a possible sighting of the unicorn that is reunion with the Eastern (Orthodox) Church. The situation of the Russian Orthodox Church at the time, however, makes what happened next distressing.

John XXIII was dedicated to an ecumenical mission and had a vision of improved relations between Catholics and non-Catholics of all stripes. As such, he took the extraordinary step of making agreements with the Russian Orthodox Church – whose hierarchy its motherland’s intelligence services, the KGB, had completely taken over – to the effect that he would not condemn Russia, its crimes, or Communism generally. This bargain was quite a swindle by the KGB – not only had the most prominent religious authority in the world effectively signed a non-aggression pact with them, but they were allowed to infiltrate the council with their trained & ordained spies (as no one could rise above a particular rank in the Russian Orthodox church without being a KGB member).

Further, this set a precedent of relations with Russia that was never truly corrected, and the scourge of Marxism began to gain a powerful foothold in the religious orders (particularly in Latin America) and utilized the Catholic organization’s resources to pursue their own Marxist geopolitical aims. Combined with the orthodox but profoundly humanist leanings of Pope Paul VI (who finished the council John XXIII started, as John died during the council in 1963), this represented a shift in the belief and praxis in the power centers of Catholicism that has also never fully reoriented its bearing with traditional teaching in the church. Paul VI’s closing speech of Vatican II is a complex web of statements with the apparent desire to have one’s cake and eat it too – to place the church at the service of mankind, “as he is”, yet to retain unique teaching authority and place itself above the merely human intellectual fray of the secular humanists. In other words, Paul VI describes an attempt to bring Christ down to man’s level and his everyday needs, while preventing him from becoming one of many potential gods in a pantheon of equals. Such an attempt can only diminish Christ’s status before the world.

After World War II, the political capital the Catholic church possessed was immense. Pope Pius XII was personally responsible for a rescue network that saved almost a million Jews. The church had weathered two great wars and the world seemed primed for a message of hope and rebuilding in such a time when such great evils had been overcome. But the Popes who succeeded Pius XII seemed caught up in a fever of “human progress”, such that they spent a critical mass of their capital offering their physical and political resources for causes concerning social justice and economic rights. In their efforts to be “the real humanists”, they allowed themselves to be transformed by the call of the world to create the habitat of man by proper application of social science, policy, and technology – not by divine will.

***

One wonders with what words Hezekiah invited the Babylonians to see his wondrous material things – did he also tell them the greatness and the transcendence of the God of Israel, who brought them out of Egypt, led them through the wilderness, and redeemed them time after time? Did he tell them the great stories of how Moses split the red sea, how God sent manna in the wilderness, and how water came forth from a rock to keep the wandering Israelites alive? What of the wonderful Passover, in which many of the separated kingdom of Samaria came to celebrate the sacrifice and event that succored their common ancestors from the iron furnace of Egypt?

What of the glory of God? Hezekiah’s tour was distinctly human – look what I have created, how I have built a conduit to bring water into my city – look at the massive riches and wealth which I have accumulated despite being an insignificant kingdom in the midst of a dangerous triangle crossfire of surrounding civilizations? Ironically, in not focusing on glorifying a transcendent, single God who called all other gods a lie, Hezekiah had unintentionally pointed out to this envoy of Chaldeans how valuable Judah could be to the right conqueror.

At least Solomon, in all his decadence, made a display of his God-given wisdom and the ascent and offerings that were done at the House of the Lord; the scripture is interestingly one-dimensional on the type of things Hezekiah showed his new best friends. No spiritual or religious institutions or practices were apparently fit into this tour, no landmarks of the great works or words of God for Israel. What were the Babylonians to be impressed by? If not the wealth of this tiny nation, Hezekiah gave them nothing else to think about this people God had preserved in a small plot of land promised to Hezekiah’s fathers.

Even Hezekiah’s response to Isaiah’s prophecy is shameful, given Hezekiah’s good deeds earlier in his life:

[2Ki 20:14-19 ESV] 14 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, from Babylon.” 15 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.” 16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD: 17 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. 18 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 19 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”

If only Hezekiah would have been able to see before him the corruption and destruction that would come upon Judah after Manasseh his son took the throne, perhaps he would have thought differently.

It is almost certain that it is of Manasseh that Ezekiel spoke in parable of the disgusting idolatry that had been perpetrated by both Israelite Kingdoms. Ezekiel first sets up the evils of the Northern Kingdom of Israel which fell before Hezekiah’s kingdom was visited by the Babylonians:

[Eze 23:2-10 ESV] 2 “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother. 3 They played the whore in Egypt; they played the whore in their youth; there their breasts were pressed and their virgin bosoms handled. 4 Oholah was the name of the elder and Oholibah the name of her sister. They became mine, and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem. 5 “Oholah played the whore while she was mine, and she lusted after her lovers the Assyrians, warriors 6 clothed in purple, governors and commanders, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses. 7 She bestowed her whoring upon them, the choicest men of Assyria all of them, and she defiled herself with all the idols of everyone after whom she lusted. 8 She did not give up her whoring that she had begun in Egypt; for in her youth men had lain with her and handled her virgin bosom and poured out their whoring lust upon her. 9 Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, into the hands of the Assyrians, after whom she lusted. 10 These uncovered her nakedness; they seized her sons and her daughters; and as for her, they killed her with the sword; and she became a byword among women, when judgment had been executed on her.

Ezekiel says something so controversial it is often missed by commenters:

[Eze 23:11 ESV] 11 “Her sister Oholibah saw this, and she became more corrupt than her sister in her lust and in her whoring, which was worse than that of her sister.

Judah had the temple and the priesthood. Israel had set up golden idols and abandoned the priesthood for scattered syncretism. Yet Judah’s offenses – her adultery and idolatry – were worse.

[Eze 23:12-25 ESV] 12 She lusted after the Assyrians, governors and commanders, warriors clothed in full armor, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men. 13 And I saw that she was defiled; they both took the same way. 14 But she carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, 15 wearing belts on their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. 16 When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. 17 And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoring lust. And after she was defiled by them, she turned from them in disgust. 18 When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister. 19 Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt 20 and lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses. 21 Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressed your young breasts.” 22 Therefore, O Oholibah, thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I will stir up against you your lovers from whom you turned in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side: 23 the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, desirable young men, governors and commanders all of them, officers and men of renown, all of them riding on horses. 24 And they shall come against you from the north with chariots and wagons and a host of peoples. They shall set themselves against you on every side with buckler, shield, and helmet; and I will commit the judgment to them, and they shall judge you according to their judgments. 25 And I will direct my jealousy against you, that they may deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire.

***

The wide-eyed progressivism that had gripped the world from the early 1900s up to then had indeed impacted Christians globally – Protestant and Catholic. In the wake of the end of two major world wars this excitement of the new world that would dawn with the world’s dragons slain veiled the foresight of many of those participating in Vatican II. The general sentiment of the council – the exuberance of the Church joining with man and serving him to create a better world would wreak havoc on the Catholic Church from then to now. This worldly end would prove to be toxic to the spirituality of the church and its special role and standing in the world. If the chief problems of man were sociopolitical, what place is there for a transcendent dynamic? Why look to heavenly things above when we can build a utopia for man here and now?

The chief figures of the council, for the most part, did not say these things just so, or without caveats to traditional Catholic teaching on the supremacy of the spiritual over sociopolitical considerations. However, their willingness to open the door to humanism – nay – to outdo the secularists in their humanism – has created a catastrophe that played out in the increasingly strained status of traditional Catholics globally. A large majority of Catholics, following the lead of their bishops, essentially ignore the church’s official stance on things such as contraception, sterilization, abortion, and continue to claim the mantle of Catholicism to whatever version of faith (if any) they actually adhere to. In this sense, The Catholic church is much closer to Protestantism than it ever has been. Protestants certainly have no figure like the Pope, despite some denominations having some sort of central figurehead. Responsibility for both Catholic and Protestant has been shuffled down to the local level – no more can orthodoxy be expected to be maintained by the center. In fact, the center is piping ambiguity and compromise directly through its largest arteries down to every Bishop and diocese and believer.

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